Chief Justice John Roberts and his four more liberal colleagues ruled that the law requiring doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals violates the abortion rights the court first announced in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
Medical Services vs Russo asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether to uphold a lower court's opinion concerning the Louisiana law.
"The legal doctrine of stare decisis requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike", he wrote.
"I joined the dissent in Whole Woman's Health and continue to believe that the case was wrongly decided".
Roberts dissented in that case, which was called Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, but voted with the liberals in the Louisiana case based on the court's tradition of adhering to its precedents, he said. "Therefore Louisiana's law can not stand under our precedent", he said.
"The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a almost identical Texas law", Roberts wrote. But since then, conservative forces in southern and midwestern states, in particular, have worked to severely restrict access to abortion services in the last three decades.
"Even under the Chief Justice's approach to stare decisis, continued adherence to these precedents can not be justified", he writes, adding his belief of the Constitutional illegitimacy of the landmark, foundational abortion access case Roe v. Wade.
But the appeals court in New Orleans rejected the judge's findings and upheld the law in 2018, doubting that any clinics would have to close and saying the doctors had not tried hard enough to establish relationships with local hospitals. "But the Court's decision could embolden states to pass even more restrictive laws when clarity is needed if abortion rights are to be protected", Northup said.
US Supreme Court rules to uphold abortion rights
The 2014 Louisiana law said that doctors must hold privileges at hospitals within 30 miles (48km) of their practice - which the state argued was to protect women's health. The presence of the new justices is what fueled hopes among abortion opponents, and fears on the other side, that the Supreme Court would be more likely to uphold restrictions.
Anyway, he added, "We have long permitted abortion providers to invoke the rights of their actual or potential patients in challenges to abortion-related regulations".
Justice Alito also focused on standing in his stinging dissent, saying that "The idea that a regulated party can invoke the right of a third party for the objective of attacking legislation enacted to protect the third party is stunning".
Abortion providers argued this was an unnecessary requirement unrelated to health outcomes that only served to prevent them from being able to provide abortion care.
The decision means that the three abortion clinics Louisiana has can continue to operate. Following Kennedy's retirement in 2018 and the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, their replacements - Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh - are seen as more conservative.
Trump, seeking re-election on November 3, promised during the 2016 presidential race to appoint justices who would overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. With this decision, it appears that Roberts at least is not comfortable with such a fast move to disregard precedent.
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