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Barbara Alvarez: June Medical Services case was never about health and safety

By Barbara Alvarez

The Supreme Court has commendably struck down in a 5-4 decision a Louisiana law that would have required abortion physicians to obtain admitting privileges for nearby hospitals.

Should this law have gone into effect, it would have left Louisiana with only one doctor at a single clinic in the entire state. The court’s decision in June Medical Services LLC v. Russo not only upholds scientific evidence of the safety of abortion, but also protects women’s human right to reproductive health care. And it is imperative to underscore that this case was never about the health and safety of women seeking abortions — it was about pushing a religious agenda in a secular nation.

To begin with, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law in June 2014 “Louisiana Unsafe Abortion Protection Act” requiring physicians who perform abortions to have active admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where the doctor performed abortions or face revocation of licenses, fines and civil liability. The admitting privileges law is an arm of TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) laws, which claim to be in the best interest of women’s health, but instead impose unnecessary burdens on their legal right to an abortion.

In fact, abortion is an extremely safe and effective procedure. Major complications occur in less than 1 percent of abortion procedures. A 2018 study found that in the few instances where patients did seek emergency services, they went to their closest emergency department and not the hospital at which the provider had admitting privileges.

By issuing unnecessary provisions on abortion providers and clinics, states are able to limit — or eliminate — abortion access. Currently, 27 cities are abortion deserts, where women must travel at least 100 miles to the nearest abortion clinic, leaving millions of women without abortion care. Abortion is an essential medical service and delaying care directly places women’s lives at risk.

In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down (5-3) a nearly identical law in Texas in Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt. However, the makeup of the Supreme Court has significantly changed, favoring the Religious Right. Since President Trump appointed two new conservative justices (Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh), a Pew Research study found that white evangelicals, who overwhelmingly want Roe v. Wade completely overturned, view the court more favorably than they did under President Obama.

By negating the ruling on Whole Woman’s Health, June Medical Services would have been a step toward propitiating Christian Nationalists. Nevertheless, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor to uphold the Supreme Court ruling precedent on Whole Woman’s Health.

It is gratifying to see abortion rights being protected — for now — in America. Yet the fight is hardly over. As history has shown, religiously motivated anti-abortionists will not relent on their crusade to insert dogma into women’s health care. We who believe in the liberty of individuals to decide if and when to continue a pregnancy must remain vigilant.

Barbara Alvarez is FFRF’s Anne Nicol Gaylor reproductive rights intern. She attends the University of Wisconsin-Madison, working on a Ph.D. in library and information sciences with a minor in gender and women’s studies.