SCOTUS Abortion Case May Be in the Hands of Chief Justice Roberts

By Mary Margaret Olohan Published on June 23, 2020

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts may play a pivotal role in the first major SCOTUS abortion case to occur during President Donald Trump’s administration.

Both Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the Court’s four liberal judges in a landmark decision June 15 that federal law protects LGBT employees from discrimination, while Roberts joined the liberal justices in a ruling announced Thursday that the Trump Administration could not terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The tie-breaking vote in June Medical Services v. Russo may be left to Roberts, but his decisions siding with the liberal justices in recent cases have sparked anxieties that he may have also joined them on June Medical Services v. Russo — a case in which an abortion provider challenges a 2014 Louisiana state law.

The Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, or Act 620, requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges in a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility. These admitting privileges would allow a woman to go directly to the hospital if she were to need urgent care.

Opponents say the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act would hinder and potentially eliminate abortion access in Louisiana. Advocates said the law protects women from unsafe or unhygienic abortion clinic practices.

June Medical Services v. Russo differs from other recent SCOTUS decisions, The Hill reports. While the LGBT and DACA cases allowed justices to interpret federal law, this abortion case will have the Supreme Court justices drawing on rulings they have made on abortion in the past.

When the Supreme Court ruled on the 2016 abortion case, Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, Roberts dissented from the SCOTUS decision to strike down the Texas law requiring abortion doctors to be required to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, the publication reports.

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Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt and June Medical Services v. Russo are strikingly similar cases. Should SCOTUS use the Louisiana abortion case to overturn the previous 2016 ruling, many may see this as a political move on Robert’s part.

“In 2016 Chief Justice Roberts dissented when the Court struck down a Texas law similar to the one at issue in June Medical,” Carrie Severino, president of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “The Louisiana law at issue in this case has an even stronger factual basis for being upheld. We’ll know soon if the Court decided to follow the law or its own political agenda.”

“Roberts has as much if not more of an interest than anyone in the public face and integrity of the Court,” Steven Schwinn, a law professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, told The Hill. “He is acutely aware that if the court were to take dramatic actions in the Louisiana case, like overturning Hellerstedt, it would widely be seen as a sheer political move.”

The abortion case at hand is already fraught with emotion. When the Supreme Court took up the case in March, both pro-life and pro-abortion protesters gathered in the cold outside the Court as figures like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke out in support of abortion access.

“I want to tell you Gorsuch,” Schumer said at a rally outside the Supreme Court, video from the event shows, “and I want to tell you Kavanaugh. You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”

A spokesman for Schumer told the DCNF at the time that Schumer was referencing the political price Republicans “will pay for putting them on the Court,” and that his remarks were “a warning that the justices will unleash major grassroots movement on the issue of reproductive rights against the decision.”

In a rare response, Roberts condemned Schumer’s remarks, saying, “Justices know that criticism comes with the territory, but threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous.”

“All members of the Court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter,” Roberts added.

Attorneys for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed June Medical Services v. Gee in August 2014, said there are only two abortion providers who have admitting privileges in the state and that there is “no medical justification” for these admitting privileges since abortion is “extremely safe.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has maintained that the law does not force clinic closures, citing the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals finding that “there is no evidence that any of the clinics will close as a result of the Act.” Louisiana abortion providers will be able to obtain admitting privileges if they are providing competent care, Landry said in a February press release.

Landry expressed hope about the ruling to the DCNF in June, emphasizing that “Louisiana abortion providers have a record of non-compliance with basic safety regulations, and now they want a special exemption from generally-accepted medical standards that apply to similar surgical procedures in our State.”

“Women seeking abortions deserve better than that; they should have the same assurance of prompt and proper care in the event of complications,” he said.

The decision could come as early as Monday, The Hill reports.

Louisiana Right to Life Associate Director Angie Thomas told the Daily Caller News Foundation in June that the organization, which introduced the law with Democratic Louisiana state Sen. Katrina Jackson, was “anxiously awaiting” the decision, warning that “the Louisiana abortion industry, with its long history of health and safety violations, cannot speak for Louisiana women.”


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