Legislation with the potential to reduce the number of doctors able to perform abortion procedures in the state of Louisiana has been temporarily blocked from going into effect on Monday by the Supreme Court. In an order issued late Friday, the Supreme Court delayed a ruling on a Louisiana abortion law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where the procedure will be performed.
In the order, Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. ordered the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to stay its ruling on the law's constitutionality until Feb. 7. According to Justice Alito, Supreme Court justices needed time to review filings regarding an application for a stay that had only been completed Friday. However, Justice Alito was quick to stress in the order that the court's decision to delay the lower court's ruling did "not reflect any view regarding the merits of the petition" for review that "applicants" have said they would file.
The law, known as the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, was passed in 2014 and set to take effect Monday despite having being previously struck down by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. According to CNN, the lower court ruled against the law in 2017, citing its potential to reduce the number of abortion providers and "place added stress" on whatever facilities remained open. The state appealed that ruling, arguing that the law seeks only to ensure high-level physician competence, and, in October, a three-judge panel for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law. The full court refused to hear the case.
But in an op-ed for The New York Times, Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup has called the restriction "medically unnecessary." She argued that the law may reduce the number of doctors who provide abortions "down to one or two ... for nearly a million women of reproductive age across the state" if it is allowed to take effect. Northup went on to argue that the law would make abortion "available only in theory for women in Louisiana."
The Center for Reproductive Rights has filed the emergency motion asking the Supreme Court to stay the law. They're hoping the court will ultimately strike down the Louisiana law, as it did with a similar law in Texas a few years ago. According to NBC, the Supreme Court struck down the law in Texas in a 5-3 ruling, arguing that it placed obstacles in front of women seeking access to abortion without providing medical benefits in turn. Since that ruling, however, President Donald Trump has placed two conservative justices — Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh — on the bench, potentially shifting the court to the right on issues such as abortion and reproductive rights.
As of Friday, however, it was unclear if the Supreme Court would take up the case as orders like the one issued by Justice Alito are, while not incredibly common, sometimes made to allow the justices more time for consideration.