Today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in June Medical S ervices v. Russo--the first abortion rights case to be heard under the current makeup of the Supreme Court. The case challenges a Louisiana law that would shut down every abortion clinic in the state except for one. The law (Act 620) bans doctors from providing abortion care unless they have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
In a 2016 case also brought and won by the Center — Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt — the Supreme Court struck down an identical law in Texas, finding that admitting privilege requirements pose an “undue burden” on the right to abortion and are medically unnecessary. In the courtroom today, Center for Reproductive Rights’ Senior Litigation Director Julie Rikelman argued to the Justices that Act 620 should meet the same fate, as nothing has changed since 2016 that would justify a different outcome. Rikelman also argued that the law would close an even greater percentage of clinics in Louisiana than in Texas, and that the medical consensus opposing this kind of law has only grown stronger since 2016.
The Center also argued against Louisiana’s claim that abortion providers and clinics lack legal standing to fight for their patients’ rights in court. Rikelman argued that the state’s attack on standing contradicts 40 years of precedent, and is designed to insulate unconstitutional abortion restrictions from being challenged in court. Nearly all abortion cases today are brought by doctors and clinics. If they did not have third-party standing, patients would have to initiate court proceedings themselves and file a case while still pregnant, at the same time they are urgently seeking abortion care.
Act 620 and the State’s challenge to standing have been denounced by a coalition of leading voices in medicine, law, and public policy who joined with abortion patients and advocates to submit 27 a micus briefs to the Supreme Court in support of the Center’s case.
While the Supreme Court heard arguments, thousands of supporters gathered outside the courthouse to rally against a growing tide of political attacks on women’s reproductive rights. More than 40 speakers addressed the crowd including: celebrities Elizabeth Banks and Busy Philipps; legislators such as Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), Representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Judy Chu (D-CA); abortion providers; faith leaders; and women who have had abortions and experienced first-hand the barriers created by anti-abortion laws.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“We should not have to refight legal battles that we’ve already won, but states like Louisiana are in open defiance of the Constitution and the Supreme Court’s rulings. It’s alarming and unacceptable that in 2020, some states are still hell-bent on denying women access to reproductive healthcare. Once again, the Court must step in to block these clinic shutdown laws and ensure that the promise of Roe v. Wade is realized for all women.”
Said Kathaleen Pittman, clinic administrator at Hope Medical Group (lead plaintiff):
“Louisiana lawmakers have tried every which way to end abortion care in our state. This law is one of many attempts to shut us down and prevent our patients from accessing abortion services. I am optimistic that the Court will recognize Act 620 for what it is — an attempt to regulate abortion care out of existence. This law would be devastating for the women in our state and would no doubt have repercussions nationwide.”
Said Julie Rikelman, Senior Director of US Litigation at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“We are back at the Supreme Court today fighting a law identical to the one we defeated in 2016. We emphasized to the Justices today that nothing has changed in the last four years that would warrant a different ruling. In fact, the medical consensus has only grown stronger that admitting privileges are medically unnecessary and actually harm women by closing clinics and putting abortion out of reach. The Supreme Court declared Texas’s law unconstitutional after it closed roughly half the clinics in that state. In Louisiana, the impact would be even more severe, closing all but one clinic. We are confident the Court will agree that a law it ruled unconstitutional four years ago cannot be constitutional today.”
For more background and history on this case, click here.
Case Caption: June Medical Services L.L.C. et al. v. Stephen Russo, Interim Secretary, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals - U.S. Supreme Court Case No. 18-1323 / No. 18-1460. The Center represents three plaintiffs: June Medical Services (the corporate name of the Center's longtime client Hope Medical Group, an independent abortion clinic in Louisiana), and two physicians (identified as "John Does" for their own protection) who provide abortion care.
The defendant is Stephen Russo, the Interim Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. Dr. Rebekah Gee, former Secretary of the State Department of Health and Hospitals, was listed as the respondent-cross-petitioner until early February 2020. We refer to the defendant as "Louisiana."
Lead Counsel for the plaintiffs: Julie Rikelman and Travis J. Tu with the Center for Reproductive Rights, along with co-counsel O'Melveny & Myers LLP.
Abortion Rights Rally
Washington, D.C, 04 March 2020
1. SOUNDBITE (English): Director of Reproduction Health and Justice at Women With A Visions, Lakeesha Harris
“We come to the steps of the Supreme Court once again to move the needle of our democracy more towards justice and liberation. And we will get liberation.”
2. SOUNDBITE (English): Hope Medical Group for Women, Kathaleen Pittman
“I cannot tell you how moving it is to see all of you here. All of these faces rallying behind us behind a small independent clinic in northwest Louisiana. This case is about women across the country being able to access abortion in a real way, not just in theory. We all know a right you cannot access is no right at all. If more clinics in Louisiana close, it is simply going to put abortion care beyond the reach of many.
3. SOUNDBITE (English): Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights
“We envision a world where every person can live in equality regardless of gender, where every person can make decisions about whether and when to get married. When every person can make a decision about whether and when to have children. Where every person can have access to quality reproductive health care. Free from discrimination and coercion. That is what we go into court to fight for every day. That's why we are at the Supreme Court today.”
4. SOUNDBITE (English): Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights
“At the center of every case is a person who has the courage and willingness to stand up to an unjust law. And I am so proud of all of you for being out here today and standing up and making visible the incredible support for making sure that every person has access to the ability to make the decisions about their health and their families and their future. So why are we back at the court? Because there are states like Louisiana and others that are in open defiance of the Supreme Court's ruling and the Constitution. It is unacceptable and alarming that in 2020, we have to refight the legal battles that have already begun, been won.”
5. SOUNDBITE (English): Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights
“ We are not going back. We are tireless. We are determined. And we are going to keep fighting for everyone's right to life and dignity and health and the ability to control our own futures. Thank you.”
6. SOUNDBITE (English): President/CEO at Whole Woman's Health, Amy Hagstrom Miller
“I want to thank you for the warm welcome. Your energy fuels both my disdain and my persistence for the fact that we should not be here again. We are proud independent abortion providers and we stand in the light. We are the clinics that lead this country forward and that fight these bad laws every day. These cruel attacks on our lives will not stop. And it is precisely because of that that we must be here every single time they design restrictive laws that oppress us and take away our rights. Guess what? We will be here.”
7. SOUNDBITE (English): President/CEO at Whole Woman's Health, Amy Hagstrom Miller
“We can't be surprised by their tactics, but we sure can be angry. The fact is we need liberation for everyone, y'all. They've made abortion a political fight and that's a shame. They're jeopardizing our lives and it must stop.”
8. Shots of crowd protesting and chanting “my decision, my right”
9. Pan from Supreme Court to protesting crowd.