The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in June Medical Services v. Russo, a significant case out of Louisiana dealing with medical standards and patient health as the legislature found that abortion clinics in their state neglect both.
In 2014, state Sen. Katrina Jackson (D) authored legislation to ensure women seeking abortions were provided with a basic standard of medical care. A representative in the Louisiana House at the time, Jackson believed it was unacceptable to allow abortion clinics to exempt themselves from the health and safety regulations that apply to all other ambulatory surgical centers.
The bill, Louisiana Act 620, was appropriately named the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, and it passed overwhelmingly with votes of 85 to 6 in the House and 34 to 3 in the Senate.
While Jackson is a stalwart pro-life legislator, she is clear-eyed about the purpose of this particular law now under review at the nation’s highest court. "This is about a minimum standard of care for women that we require for every other procedure," the senator told the Monroe News-Star, her hometown paper. "It's a common sense law. I do have legislation that would restrict or ban abortion, but this bill is apart from that."
Her bill required the doctor performing an abortion to hold admitting privileges at a nearby hospital so that in the event of a complication they would be able to quickly transfer the woman to recieve care. Hospital admitting privileges for doctors are critical in order to ensure continuity of care for the patient, which is a standard medical practice required for all other ambulatory surgical centers.
Shortly after the common sense bill became a much needed law, a clinic and pair of abortion doctors challenged the constitutionality of the regulations in court claiming that such standards would shut down their services.
It’s important to note that patients of abortion clinics did not bring this challenge claiming the regulations were unwarranted or burdensome to their healthcare. The abortion clinics that would be regulated by this law brought the challenge to the law in order to avoid compliance to the same medical standards already required of all other clinics where surgerical procedures are conducted. And in their challenge to these basic protections for women, the abortion clinics exposed the myth at the heart of the abortion industry–that abortion is healthcare.
If abortion is healthcare, as their lobby claims, then the doctors involved should be held by law to proper medical standards to protect their patients. Abortionists cannot claim to be on the side of their patient’s health if they refuse to be regulated as healthcare professionals.
After the challenge, the Louisiana law was put on hold as another case was mounted in Texas to the Lone Star State’s recently enacted medical standard law for abortion clinics. That case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, lost at the Supreme Court in a narrow 5 to 4 decision in 2016, upholding the “undue burden” precedent. The justices found that the Texas law would place an undue burden on a woman’s so-called constitutional right to abortion. This legal precedent is the abortion lobby’s ever-elusive exemption from the regulatory standards of the medical community they claim to be a proud member of.
After the Texas decision, the Supreme Court ordered Louisiana’s Act 620 be reviewed at the District Court where it was eventually found unconstitutional. The state of Louisiana then appealed the ruling at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals where the District Court’s ruling was reversed, paving the way for Jackson’s law to finally go into effect in February of 2019. The abortion industry then requested and was granted an emergency stay by the Supreme Court to keep the law from becoming enforceable until the justices could weigh in.
On Jan. 2, the ERLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the justices to affirm the Fifth Circuit’s decision upholding the 2014 Louisiana law to protect women who suffer from the haphazard and unregulated practices of the abortion industry.
Commenting on our brief, Travis Wussow, ERLC's general counsel and vice president for public policy, affirmed to the Baptist Press that “Louisiana has the right to ensure the health and safety of its people by regulating the medical profession. This case should challenge the odd set of cultural assumptions and legal precedents under which the abortion industry operates with near impunity from the scrutiny of standard medical regulations.”
Wussow continued, “As abortion clinics claim to be medical providers, then the state is well within its duty to regulate their practices for the safety of women. We hope the Supreme Court will discard the 'undue burden' carve-out and apply the same ordinary and rational scrutiny to Louisiana's law that would apply to any other medical regulation."
At the heart of this case is the perplexing question of why abortion is exempt from the legal provision of safe medical practices. Why should the abortion industry be exempt from the medical standards already applied to all other ambulatory surgical centers? Do states have the right and responsibility to prioritize women’s health and safety over a specific industry’s business interests? Why should the abortion industry have legal standing in this case when their financial interests directly conflict with the health interests of the women the regulations seek to protect?
The case the nine justices will hear today questions critical health and safety regulations in an appeal brought by an abortion industry that benefits from an out-of-control system. The state of Louisiana is right to protect women.