Without a doubt, the 5-4 June Medical Services v. Russo ruling was a significant victory in the pro-choice arena, especially considering the conservative majority in the Supreme Court. However, it is not the victory that we need, a victory that would confirm the legitimacy of both women’s rights to abortion and access to abortion.
This issue is evident in Roberts’ concurrence, where he asserts that his decision was dictated by stare decisis, the legal doctrine that sets historical cases as a precedent for new, similar cases, and not his personal or political opinion. The Louisiana law was very similar to the 2016 Texas abortion law that was struck down in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
The bulk of Roberts’ concurrence expresses his personal disdain for the Whole Women’s Health decision. He emphasizes that the Whole Women’s Health decision was made using the undue burden standard that was set with the earlier Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which in short, deems any abortion law unconstitutional if the burdens outweigh the benefits. The court ruled in Whole Women’s Health that the Texas law constituted an “undue burden” on access to abortion, thus violating the standard set from Casey. In his opinion, the burdens did not outweigh the benefits in either case, spotlighting Roberts’ anti-choice, anti-woman stance as Chief Justice of the United States.
Roberts also holds the opinion that burdens and benefits should not be measured in abortion cases as it is established with Casey; rather, he believes a court should consider whether the law imposes a substantial obstacle or blockade in the path to abortion. This was the previous standard before Casey and Roberts is working towards re-setting this standard. This is where Roberts’ dangerous, conservative views come into play—in court, he has never met an obstacle or blockade that he thinks is “substantial” enough. Women should not face any obstacles or blockades when it comes to receiving this essential form of healthcare.
It is important to add that Roberts also endorsed conservative Justice Samuel Alito’s dissenting opinion, clarifying that his concurrence only covers Louisiana’s admitting privileges law. So, rather than stopping the proliferation of admitting privilege laws and other state laws that seek to limit abortion access, it will likely encourage strategic anti-abortion actions in other states.
His language in the concurrence is unclear, further paving a path that is chipping away at abortion rights and dismantling Roe v. Wade. Abortion is a form of essential healthcare and right now, women who live in states like Louisiana have to drive hundreds of miles, across and between states, to receive this essential care. This fact along with the shame and violence inflicted towards women who have had or wish to have abortions, are especially burdensome on women of color and LGBTQ individuals.
While June Medical is considered a victory, it does nothing to fix an already terrible problem. Women in Louisiana, and other similar states, will still face the problems mentioned above. The United States needs a new, sweeping victory that establishes in the court of law the fact that abortion is a fundamental human right.
Blog by Emma Rose Lowder, NOW Government Relations Assistant