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Understanding the Louisiana abortion case

| Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Last week, Respect Life Week brought abortion to the forefront of campus discussion. As seen through a series of campus events and viewpoints in The Observer, abortion is a heated topic at this university. However, regardless of one’s opinion, one must recognize that panels, opinion pieces and debates on social media are not enough to enact tangible change. Obviously, these dialogues are important. Our democratic republic thrives on discourse. However, there is a lack of understanding towards the judiciary process. One’s beliefs does not certify the legality of those beliefs. Our nation operates under a system of law and order. Governed by a constitution, laws must follow the guidelines set in our nation’s founding documents. Thus, we should consider how the judiciary system is currently approaching abortion.

On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled to take up a Louisiana abortion case. The case, June Medical Services v. Gee, concerns a state law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges for patients to a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. The stated purpose of the law is to maintain safety for the patient. The case is likely to be heard early next year. This means a decision will be released in summer 2020, months before a presidential election where abortion is guaranteed to be a hot-button issue. However, to understand the constitutional context of the law, we must examine earlier cases. 

In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled on a Texas law similar to the Louisiana case. That law also required admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles, but also a series of regulatory standards for abortion clinics. In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court struck down the Texas law, citing a precedent from Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. Here, the Supreme Court established a test to determine if an abortion regulation creates an “undue burden”, defined as “placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.” Under this test, courts are required to weigh the state’s interest in protecting patients versus the burden it places on patients. If the potential benefits are outweighed by the hindrance it causes, the law is unconstitutional. This burdens test recognizes that the state has a vested interest in the wellbeing of its citizens, but that interest cannot circumscribe citizens’ ability to express their rights. 

Now, many argue that the Texas and Louisiana cases are similar and thus should be treated with the same outcome. I will not comment on how an ongoing case should be resolved. However, I will provide the reasoning the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals used to uphold the Louisiana law for the sake of providing information. The appeals court noted that while clinics would close under the Texas law and the difficulty doctors experienced in attaining admitting privileges, that was not the case in Louisiana. Furthermore, there would not be a significant increase in the distance patients would have to travel in Louisiana, while in Texas, “the number of women forced to drive over 150 miles increased by 350%.” These will be the circumstances the Supreme Court will have to consider when oral arguments begin.  

It is important to note the distinguishing factors between this case and Roe. This case, stemming from Casey, pertains to the extent of regulating abortion and related medical procedures. Roe, on the other hand, concerns the right to abortion itself. This case is not about whether or not women are entitled to an abortion under the Fourteenth Amendment. Rather, it questions how far the law may go in regulating that right. This is an important distinction, as proponents of abortion fear this case will remove the right to abortion. That is not the issue in this case. 

Another factor to consider in the Louisiana case is a petition filed by Louisiana officials. In this petition, the government argued that abortion providers should not be allowed to challenge abortion restrictions. The petition was granted and will be one of the topics the Court considers in the case. If approved, this means that abortion providers can no longer sue on behalf of their patients. Instead, individual women would have to file constitutional violations on their own. This challenges the precedent set in Singleton v. Wulff, which enables abortion providers to litigate on behalf of their patients. 

This column’s purpose is to provide information on the Louisiana case, the most pertinent abortion case in 2019. Information on legal precedents, similar cases and the issue at hand is key to creating an informed opinion, as well as understanding the legal process. There are procedures to follow that the media often glances over in favor of stirring up controversy. My hope is that this piece provides insight into the judiciary process and the true implications of this case. 

Blake Ziegler is a freshman at Notre Dame from New Orleans, Louisiana, with double majors in political science and philosophy. He hopes his writing encourages others to take an interest inpolitics and government. For inquiries, he can be reached at [email protected] or @NewsWithZig on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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