KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: High court’s surprising abortion decision

The Supreme Court surprised both sides in the polarized abortion battle Monday by ruling, 5-4, that a Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform the procedure to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital is an unconstitutional infringement of a woman's right to an abortion.

As expected, the court's four liberals in the case, June Medical Services v. Russo, said that the law did not provide any protections for women and merely made it harder for them to obtain an abortion and that it was nearly identical to a Texas law struck down in 2016. The four conservatives said the Louisiana law should be upheld, although that would have left the state with only a single abortion provider. The swing vote was Chief Justice John Roberts, who, in a concurring opinion, said he disagreed with the ruling in the Texas case but it is now precedent and thus should not be overturned.

This week's panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico and Jennifer Haberkorn of the Los Angeles Times.

The panelists broke down the decision along several lines, including:

  • Why a court with five justices who have all voted to back abortion restrictions did not uphold the first major abortion law to come before it since Anthony Kennedy retired and was replaced by Brett Kavanaugh.
  • How the ruling could have gone much further than merely upholding the Louisiana law. The court had been asked to use the case to overturn Roe v. Wade in its entirety and to bar abortion providers from filing suit on behalf of their patients. The justices did neither.
  • Why Justice Roberts' vote in this case does not suggest he will vote with abortion-rights supporters in other cases, but might offer a clue on how he will vote in the upcoming case challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
  • How this case could play at the polls in November.

"What the Health?" is taking a break on Thursday but will return July 9.

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Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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