If a single vote on the Supreme Court had shifted in the other direction, the state of Louisiana would have been left with just one doctor to provide abortions for all women in the state.
Instead, on Monday morning the court struck down the contentious Louisiana law, which would have severely restricted abortion access. The 5-4 decision found Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court's four liberals-leaning justices—Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Trump-appointed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh joined reliable conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas in dissent. It's the first abortion-related decision of the new, conservative-leaning, Trump-inflected Supreme Court.
The law—if upheld—would have set a precedent that states can chip away at abortion rights through a number of restrictions, despite the watershed 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that enshrined the right to abortion as constitutional in the U.S.
Louisiana's abortion law was significant for two reasons.
The first is that it would have required doctors to have a credential called an “admitting privilege” at a nearby hospital. To a person outside of healthcare, that sounds like a reasonable credential to require of a doctor.
In fact, an admitting privilege is a financial relationship a doctor has with a hospital, not a qualification or a special license. And in an ironic twist, “admitting privileges” are almost impossible for abortion providers to get—hospitals (especially in places like Louisiana) don't want to publicly associate with doctors who perform abortions, and abortion is so safe that those doctors aren't usually able to obtain admitting privileges, which are given to providers who admit large numbers of people to hospitals.
The admitting privileges law, like many of the 450-odd abortion-restricting laws that have been passed in the U.S. since 2011, is called a “trap law"—Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers. That means they try to make abortion impossible to access by passing laws that claim to protect women's health. One of the most absurd examples is laws in five states that force doctors to show women seeking abortions inaccurate information that claims that getting an abortion could increase your risk of breast cancer.
The Louisiana law would have left the state with a single abortion clinic with a single abortion provider, in the name of “women's health.”
Abortion is a constitutional right as long as the 1973 decision Roe V. Wade isn't overturned. But in the meantime, republican lawmakers do everything in their power to make actual access to abortion impossible.
That brings us to the second reason this Supreme Court Louisiana decision is such a big deal: it's huge déjà vu. The Supreme Court already tried almost this exact same case, four years ago.
Here's the deal: In 2013, Texas enacted a law just like the Louisiana one, requiring that physicians who perform abortions have admitting privileges, among other restrictive changes. In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down the law, writing, “We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes.”
In other words: the law would not benefit women's health and safety. It's a TRAP law.
In 2014, Louisiana adopted almost the same law as Texas, with almost identical wording. That's why it's so shocking that this case made it all the way to the Supreme Court: Usually, when the Supreme Court makes a decision and sets a precedent, that's that.
The Louisiana abortion law suggests that lawmakers know that the Court, which has shifted significantly more conservative thanks to two Trump appointees, isn’t afraid to challenge precedent that's only a few years old. That's not the way the Supreme Court is supposed to work—precedent yanked this way and that within a short span, like a toy between children. But with a court that has suddenly veered right, it's all but inevitable.
The Texas TRAP law was struck down by the court in 2016. But by the time the abortion-rights victory came through, half of the clinics in the state had been forced to close (sending more women over state lines into Louisiana). Even when anti-abortion activists lose, they advance.
And even though abortion-rights advocates won this time, the margin of victory was slim. Chief Justice Roberts, who voted to strike down the law, did so not because he believed, as the majority of his colleagues did just four years ago, that the law was unsound for women's health. He said, in essence, "I am voting this way only because SCOTUS struck down this exact same law 4 years ago."
This ruling is a victory for anyone who believes women should have rights to their own bodies. But it's not a decisive victory. The majority of Supreme Court Justices have given us reason to believe that they do not wholeheartedly support the right to safe, accessible abortion. In the sense that abortion is legal in the United States—with stumbling blocks, stigmas, TRAP laws, and costs in the way—abortion was saved today. But there's no reason to believe it will be safe for long.
Lawmakers in Louisiana and other states have made it clear that their anti-abortion laws aren't for the sake of women's health and safety, but rather to deny their constitutional right to an abortion. “We've been named the top pro-life state in America for the last three years, at least,” former Louisiana representative Frank Hoffmann said at a press conference in 2014. “And we do it through making it tough to get an abortion.”
Lawmakers like Hoffman are surely not celebrating today. But they're probably planning their next move.
“What does it mean to a patient in Louisiana if Roe is technically on the books but the state is able to completely get rid of all the abortion providers?” Tj Tu, one of the lawyers who brought the case to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Center for Reproductive rights told Glamour earlier this year. “In that case, Roe is just an illusion of having a constitutional right.”
With this slim win for abortion-rights, attempts by lawmakers to make women’s rights to their own bodies just “an illusion” will surely continue.
*Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on [Twitter](https://twitter.com/JeanValjenny).*
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