Supreme Court strikes down restrictive Louisiana abortion law

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Louisiana's tough restriction on abortion violates the Constitution, a surprising victory for abortion rights advocates from an increasingly conservative court.

The ruling struck down a law passed by Louisiana's legislature in 2014 that required any doctor offering abortion services to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Its enforcement had been blocked by a protracted legal battle.

Two Louisiana doctors and a medical clinic sued to get the law overturned. They said it would leave only one doctor at a single clinic to provide services for nearly 10,000 women who seek abortions in the state each year.

The challengers said the requirement was identical to a Texas law the Supreme Court struck down in 2016. With the vote of then-Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court ruled that Texas imposed an obstacle on women seeking access to abortion services without providing any medical benefits.

Kennedy was succeeded by the more conservative Brett Kavanaugh, appointed by President Donald Trump.

The Center for Reproductive Rights said the burdens on access to abortion in Louisiana would have been even more restrictive than those in Texas, where about half of the state's abortion clinics were forced to close. It also said the law was unnecessary, because only a small fraction of women experience medical problems after an abortion, and when they do, they seek treatment at a hospital near where they live, not one near the medical clinic.

Louisiana defended the law, arguing that the requirement to have an association with a nearby hospital would provide a check on a doctor's credentials. But opponents said a hospital's decision about whether to grant admitting privileges had little to do with a doctor's competence and more to do with whether the doctor would admit a sufficient number of patients.

A federal judge ruled in 2017 that the law was likely unconstitutional and blocked its enforcement. But a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted to lift the stay, finding that it would present far less of an obstacle than the Texas law would have, because less than one-third of Louisiana women seeking an abortion would face even the potential of longer wait times.

The Supreme Court put that ruling on hold while it considered the case, which prevented the law from taking effect.