Swing vote: Roberts sides with liberal justices in 5-4 abortion ruling

Justice Roberts and gavel

The Supreme Court decided to stop Louisiana from enforcing new. regulations on abortion clinics in a test of the conservative court’s views on abortion rights. The decision dealt a victory to opponents of the law who argued that it could decimate “safe and legal” abortions in the state. 

The order was 5-4 with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s four liberals voting for the stay. New conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote a dissent.

Louisiana’s Unsafe Abortion Protection Act has been blocked since it was  enacted in 2014. It is similar to a Texas law the court previously struck down which requires a doctor to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where the abortion is performed.

Louisiana argued that the law is necessary to provide a higher level of physician competence, but critics say there is no medical justification for the law and it amounts to a veiled attempt to unlawfully restrict abortion.

The Supreme Court previously said in 2016 that the restrictions in the Texas law constituted an undue burden on a woman’s right to seek an abortion.

This move by the high court was asked for by The Center for Reproductive Rights. They represent patients, clinics and doctors in the state.

Thursday night’s ruling will not prevent the court from eventually agreeing to take up the case and uphold the law in the future. Supporters of abortion rights fear that the court’s conservative majority will move to chip away at abortion rights if not eventually all but overturn the landmark Supreme Court opinions of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Thursday’s action again demonstrates Justice Roberts’ role as the key vote on abortion in the Supreme Court, said CNN analyst and University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck.

Justice Anthony Kennedy had cast the deciding vote to block the Texas access law, but was replaced by Kavanaugh last year. On Thursday, Roberts cast the vote to block the Louisiana law.

“Compared to the majority opinion Justice Kennedy joined three years ago striking down a deeply similar Texas law, the fact that Justice Kavanaugh dissented drives home that, on abortion cases, the chief justice is now the swing vote,” Vladeck said.

Credit: NY Post