Justice Samuel Alito late Friday temporarily blocked a Louisiana abortion law from going into effect as scheduled on Monday.
Alito said in a brief order that the justices needed more time to review the filings in the case. As such he put the law on hold until February 7. He noted that the order “does not reflect any view regarding the merits” of the case.
Louisiana’s Unsafe Abortion Protection Act has been blocked since its enactment in 2014, it requires a doctor to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where the abortion is performed.
The state argues 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.
In 2017, Judge John deGravelles, of the US District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, an Obama appointee, struck down the law, saying it would severely limit the number of providers available to perform abortions, result in the closure of clinics and “place added stress” on remaining facilities.
About 10,000 women a year seek abortions in the state and the challengers had shown that if the law were to go into effect, only one physician would be able to provide abortions in the state, he said. “Even working an implausible seven-day week, it would be impossible for him to expand his practice to meet even half the state’s need for abortion services,” deGravelles wrote.
Louisiana appealed the case to the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which had previously upheld a similar Texas law the Supreme Court subsequently reversed.
In a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel of the circuit court acknowledged in its opinion that it was beholden to the Supreme Court’s opinion, but it distinguished the Louisiana law from the Texas law. As a part of its reasoning, the majority rejected deGrevelles’ finding that abortion providers in the state had made a “good faith” effort to get the necessary admitting privileges. Instead, they said that “the vast majority largely sat on their hands, assuming they would not qualify.”
The majority held that the law would not “impose a substantial burden on a large fraction of women” and that admitting privileges in Louisiana are easier to obtain because the state is less stringent in its requirements.
After that opinion, one of the sitting judges asked the full circuit to vote on taking up the case. On January 18, they refused in a 9-6 vote, clearing the way for the law to go into effect this month.
Friday’s order was issued by Alito because he has jurisdiction over the circuit court that upheld the law.