BORTION RIGHTS HISTORY turned another page as the US Supreme Court neared the end of its recent term. The Court announced several important decisions, including June Medical v Russo, in which it upheld its own 2016 landmark decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. In June Medical, the Court, which currently comprises six Catholic justices, found unconstitutional the Louisiana law in question, which requires doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals to provide abortion services in the state. The struck-down statutes in both June Medical and Whole Woman’s Health required abortion facilities to adhere to medically unnecessary requirements know as TRAP (targeted regulations for abortion provision) laws purported to further the safety of women, but in reality contrived as ways to regulate abortion clinics out of business.
The 2016 case was based on a law passed in 2013 after then state senator Wendy Davis’ infamous filibuster of Texas HB 2. The Court found against the state, in that the restrictions requiring physicians who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges and requiring abortion clinics in the state to have facilities comparable to an ambulatory surgical center placed a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking an abortion and constituted an undue burden on abortion access in violation of the precedent set in Roe v. Wade. Undeterred, in 2014, Louisiana enacted similar legislation, which was appealed to the Supreme Court in 2019 and became known as June Medical Services v Russo. The June Medical decision to uphold the 2016 decision found Chief Justice John Roberts casting the deciding vote in a 5-4 decision; Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority opinion of the Court. Roberts issued a separate concurrent opinion attributing his support in the case to the principles of stare decisis and not to a woman’s right to choose abortion. For the moment, the Court continued the affirmation of individual moral agency and protection of access to essential, time-sensitive abortion care for all women, including the most vulnerable.
In fact, several days later, the Court reinforced the status quo in three other cases: It let stand the Seventh Circuit decision to provide Whole Woman’s Health in Indiana with a provisional license; it upheld a Third Circuit ruling enabling a 20-foot buffer zone in front of clinics, and it let stand attorney’s fees granted to the Planned Parenthood lawyers who challenged Ohio’s restrictions on medication abortion. Additionally, the Court left open the door in several other cases remanded to the Seventh Circuit to reconsider based on the recent June Medical decision. These cases involved the unconstitutionality of Indiana’s ultrasound requirement and parental notice laws.
The fight is far from over. Catholics for Choice continues to amplify the voices of prochoice Catholics to secure the right and access to abortion and safeguard each individual’s ability to make conscience-based decisions about reproductive health for themselves.