By the end of the month, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on another case that could chip away at the rights protected by Roe v. Wade. This landmark case, June Medical Services v. Russo, is a challenge brought by two physicians and one health center to a Louisiana “targeted regulation of abortion providers” (TRAP) law, that was passed by the state legislature. Act 620 requires physicians that provide abortion care to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of where that care is provided.
This legislation is a politically-motivated attempt to put up more barriers to access abortion care. Obtaining admitting privileges is not easy: The process is time-consuming and the privileges are extremely hard to secure. Therefore, if enacted, Act 620 could make it more difficult for women, transgender, and gender-non-conforming individuals to access abortion care, and could leave few doctors in Louisiana that could legally provide abortion care.
In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down a very similar law in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The opinion of the Court was that this law created an “undue burden” for patients seeking abortion care. The “undue burden” standard came out of the 1992 court case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and has been used as the standard for whether a state law is constitutional, or if it adds a significant barrier to abortion access. Additionally, there is concern that the Court could alter how the “undue burden” standard is applied. It is possible that the Supreme Court could increase the share of patients that must be burdened for a regulation to be considered unconstitutional. This would make it even more difficult for politically-motivated and medically unnecessary regulations to be stopped by the courts. It is unknown if and how the “undue burden” standard will be applied in the upcoming decision in June Medical Services v. Russo.
June Medical Services v. Russo not only threatens access to care, it also brings up the issue of “third-party standing” and whether it is applicable in abortion cases. Third-party standing is when a person or organization brings forward a lawsuit for another individual when their interests are closely aligned.
In June, health centers and physicians brought a lawsuit challenging Act 620 on behalf of their patients. If the Court rules that physicians and health centers no longer have “third-party standing,” it will make it much more difficult for unnecessary abortion restrictions to be challenged in the courts. While this does not directly affect an individual’s ability to receive abortion care, it could make it more difficult to bring a case against unconstitutional abortion restrictions in the future.
Since the verdict on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, President Trump has appointed two anti-abortion justices to the Court. Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh swing the Court 5-4 in the conservative direction and therefore could have a significant effect on how the Court will rule in June Medical Services v. Russo. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Louisiana law, the effects of the ruling will eventually trickle out of Louisiana and into surrounding states. The outcome of June Medical Services v. Russo could have deep, far-reaching effect on the abortion access in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Medically unnecessary TRAP laws could start popping up in more states across the country. And eliminating third-party standing will make these and other targeted regulations of abortion providers difficult to challenge.
It may feel like there is little you can do to stop this case and its effects, but that is not true. One of the most important things you can do is vote! Supreme Court justices are not elected by the people, but the president who appoints them is. Supreme Court justices must also be approved by the Senate, and the Senate Majority Leader has a lot of say over how and when the process for approval moves forward. The next president could have the chance to nominate justices to the Court, so on Nov. 3, it is so important that you get out and vote. Together, we can elect a reproductive health and rights champion to the White House. We’ve done it before, and we will do it again in November.
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