This Louisiana Abortion Law Was Challenged All the Way to the Supreme Court
The abortion industry repeats the mantra “abortion is health care.” But when it comes to actually protecting the health and safety of women seeking abortions, abortion providers are all about charging money for these deadly procedures and not very concerned with health.
Consider the state of the abortion industry in Louisiana.
Several abortion clinics in the state were cited for a laundry list of disturbing health code violations that were putting women at risk: abortionists who failed to sterilize instruments between procedures, who neglected to report statutory rapes of their clients, and who allowed women to suffer on the operating table when they needed urgent medical attention at a hospital.
Take the story of Brenda J., for example. Brenda began to bleed heavily when an abortion doctor perforated her uterus during an abortion. But the abortionist left her on the table for seven to eight hours as she lost more and more blood. Finally, the doctor sent Brenda to the hospital—not in an ambulance, but in a staff member’s car.
Once Brenda arrived at the emergency room, doctors couldn’t effectively diagnose her bleeding because they didn’t know about the abortion. Because of this, Brenda’s treatment was delayed. While undergoing additional surgery, doctors discovered part of the baby’s skull inside her. This tragic incident resulted in Brenda losing her uterus and the ability to ever have children again.
Because of tragic stories like Brenda’s, Louisiana legislators decided to take action. They passed the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act in June 2014. But Louisiana abortion providers challenged the very laws that were intended to protect women and their health.
Read more below.
What is the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act?
When a woman walks into an abortion facility, she is often fearful and anxious. The cleanliness of the facility and the qualifications of the staff may not be at the front of her mind. But maybe they should be.
Several Louisiana clinics have been cited for failing to keep their facilities clean, reusing single-use equipment, and even allowing unqualified staff members to assist with abortions. Abortion providers were also not properly screening the doctors who perform abortions. In one case, an abortion facility even hired an eye doctor to perform abortions.
These failures have left women in dangerous and sometimes life-threatening situations.
Legislators in the state of Louisiana knew they needed to act immediately to protect women’s health and safety. That’s why they passed Act 620, the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act. This law required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.
A law like this does two things:
1. To obtain admitting privileges, doctors are screened by hospitals for competence and a clean track record. For doctors who perform abortions, this helps ensure that they are properly vetted and have the appropriate skills and knowledge, including a history free of substandard care.
2. It helps ensure that women undergoing abortions have continuity of care. In the case of an emergency—such as a perforated uterus—a doctor can directly admit a woman undergoing an abortion to the hospital where he has admitting privileges, relay critical information, and continue treating her as appropriate.
These are not hypothetical concerns. One of the abortion doctors challenging the law testified at trial that, after he punctured a woman’s uterus during an abortion, he used his emergency admitting privileges to admit her to a hospital and give her the emergency care she needed.
June Medical Services v. Russo
Act 620 was common sense.
Admitting privileges are required of all doctors at ambulatory surgical centers under Louisiana law. And yet the abortion providers sought a special exception only for abortionists.
Even worse, they hijacked women’s voices to do so. For years, those in the abortion industry have said that they have the authority to challenge abortion laws in court because they speak for “women’s rights.”
But the abortion industry does not represent women. While abortionists say that they are speaking for women, they’re really only concerned with themselves. They have a conflict of interest. It would be like an employer with a hazardous worksite suing on behalf of employees to invalidate OSHA and other safety regulations that benefit those same employees. In non-abortion contexts, courts don’t allow this.
If these abortion facilities actually wanted to provide quality health care, they would welcome safeguards like the ones in Act 620. That’s why ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot has said, “Allowing abortionists to use women’s rights to strike down a law protecting women’s health is like allowing Ford Motor Company to invoke consumers’ rights to invalidate a law requiring safer seat belts.”
What's at stake?
We can’t forget the reason for Louisiana’s law: to ensure that women who have chosen to seek an abortion receive proper medical care.
As it stands now, women are at risk in many abortion facilities in Louisiana. The staff or doctors working there might not be competent or complying with existing health and safety codes. And the doctors might not have admitting privileges to get their patients to a hospital quickly if something goes wrong.
And that brings us back to the story of Brenda.
If Act 620 had been in place, Brenda’s terrible story may have been prevented. With admitting privileges, the abortionist would have been able to admit and treat Brenda at the hospital nearby and relay the critical information about what had gone wrong during the abortion. And if the abortionist’s skill or competence were proven lacking, Act 620 would have prevented him from performing Brenda’s botched abortion in the first place.
- June 2014: Louisiana passed Act 620.
- August 2014: Several abortion facilities in the state challenged the law and filed for an injunction to prevent it from going into effect.
- 2014-2016: Louisiana battled with abortion providers, including June Medical Services, in federal district court and then at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
- October 2019: The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
- January 2020: ADF attorneys filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court on behalf of 80 current, former, and incoming Louisiana state legislators.
- March 2020: The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case.
- June 2020: In a narrow 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down Louisiana’s abortion law.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Act 620—bipartisan legislation that was introduced by a Democratic state representative and signed into law by a Republican governor. ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner commented on the Court’s decision:
“Women can speak for themselves—they don’t need abortion businesses to speak for them. Women seeking abortions have the same right to competent and quality care as patients involved in other surgical procedures. Louisiana’s admitting privileges law protected that right. Louisiana abortion providers went to extraordinary lengths to erase a law that state legislators enacted overwhelmingly, in bi-partisan fashion, to promote the wellbeing of women. Our work to prioritize women’s health and safety over abortion business interests will continue at the federal, state, and local levels.”
The bottom line
The abortion industry talks about how it fights for women’s health care. But this case shows that the industry is only concerned with more abortions and more profits and is not even willing to do the bare minimum to protect health and safety.
If abortion doctors like those in Louisiana really wanted to protect women’s health, they would welcome safeguards that protect women’s health and wellbeing. Instead, they’ve challenged those safeguards by invoking the rights of the women that Act 620 protects.
We need to listen to women, not abortion providers.
Women share their personal experiences and why they support measures like the Louisiana abortion law:
ADF team members contributed to the writing and publication of this article.