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“Moment of Elation”: In 1st Big Abortion Case of Trump Era, SCOTUS Strikes Down Strict Louisiana Law

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In the first big ruling on abortion in the Trump era, the Supreme Court has struck down a restrictive abortion law in Louisiana that would have left the state with just one abortion clinic. The 2014 law required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic, an onerous requirement that often made it impossible for abortion providers to continue to operate. “It was a moment of elation,” says Lakeesha Harris, director of reproductive health and justice at Women with a Vision, a women’s rights organization based in New Orleans. “Many of us have been working years, so this was justice in the making.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to start with the first big abortion case of the Trump era. The reproductive rights movement saw a major victory Monday, when the Supreme Court struck down a restrictive abortion law in Louisiana that would have left the state with just one abortion clinic. The 2014 law required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. These privileges are often impossible for abortion providers to obtain, due to anti-choice sentiment or because they don’t admit enough patients to meet hospital minimums.

Chief Justice John Roberts sided with liberal justices in the 5-to-4 decision. He indicated this was solely to respect court precedent. In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down a near identical law in Texas. In that case, Roberts dissented.

This is Planned Parenthood president and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson responding to the ruling.

ALEXIS McGILL JOHNSON: You know, I think it’s just a sigh of relief. You know, I had the pleasure of being in the courtroom to hear the argument being heard. And I, you know, really want to just first give credit to the Center for Reproductive Rights and their work with June Medical and how brilliantly and beautifully argued it was. It means that women in Louisiana have access to abortion. …

You know, I do think the court was taking a stand, and I think particularly, you know, being in the room and listening to the questions by Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg and Kagan, how they were actually able to make plain the burden that would be carried by people seeking abortion.

AMY GOODMAN: Alexis McGill Johnson is the new permanent head of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Well, for more, we’re going to Louisiana, where we’re joined by Lakeesha Harris, director of reproductive health and justice at Women with a Vision. She joins us from New Orleans.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Lakeesha. First, can you describe your reaction when you heard the news that Chief Justice John Roberts had joined with the liberal justices in a ultimately pro-choice ruling?

LAKEESHA HARRIS: For me, for all of us, it was just a big, collective, deep sigh. Thank you, Amy and Juan, for having me. It was a moment of elation. Many of us have been working years, so this was justice in the making. And we cried together, and we celebrated.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I wanted to ask you, in terms of this — this ruling is very similar to a 2016 ruling by the court in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in Texas. Could you talk about this whole issue of undue burden that was involved in both the Texas case as well as this one?

LAKEESHA HARRIS: Yes, so, undue burden means that you can’t — that lawmakers in the state cannot present anything that poses an undue or unjust burden to people seeking abortion care. That was, you know, held up in Texas, and the Supreme Court justices held that same precedence here in Louisiana. And what that means for people on the ground who disproportionately don’t have the resources — they’re Black and Brown people, the most marginalized in Louisiana — it means that they don’t have any blockage in the road. Well, they don’t have this blockage, this law, admitting privileges, to get to abortion services.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And under the law that was struck down, you’ve estimated that as much as 70% of the people who are seeking abortions in Louisiana would have had to travel more than 150 miles to get an abortion?

LAKEESHA HARRIS: And that is correct. And when you think about that, you’re talking about poor people who don’t have the resources usually. And in a pandemic, we’re thinking about the people who are most affected by COVID-19, that is already disproportionately killing Black and Brown people in our state.

AMY GOODMAN: Lakeesha Harris, can you talk about what these admitting privileges do? I mean, it sounds like a technical point, but can you talk about how this plays out? First, I wanted to go to Louisiana Solicitor General Liz Murrill, who had defended Louisiana’s anti-choice law. She was speaking to the Catholic station Eternal Word Television Network.

LIZ MURRILL: Think about like a seatbelt law. We wouldn’t let Ford Motor Company challenge a seatbelt law or an airbag law in the name of the people who are protected by that airbag. So, it’s just a conflict, I think, in the regulatory structure. These are health and safety regulations, and they have an interest in being deregulated or having less oversight.

AMY GOODMAN: So, she’s talking about this as just a matter of deregulation and having more oversight. Explain specifically what it means for a doctor to get privileges in a local hospital and why this shuts down clinics.

LAKEESHA HARRIS: So, it’s not just a matter of deregulation. This is part of the numerous TRAP laws that they entangle our providers in. And so, with that, it’s like, you know, doctors have to be connected to a hospital within 30 miles of the clinics. And that has been such a daunting task for our providers. We only have three in the state. And they have tried to be connected to hospitals and have been denied, or the process has been prolonged. And that leaves us with little to no resources within our communities. These physicians and clinics are systematically under attack.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what has it meant to women in the state, in general, in terms of this lack of access to reproductive care? Can you talk about Louisiana’s high maternal mortality rates compared to the rest of the country?

LAKEESHA HARRIS: Yes. So, we have a high maternal mortality rate. I believe it’s the second most mortality rate, with it being Black women dying in childbirth four times more than white women in our state. And what that does is force people into pregnancy, when we don’t have abortion access and somebody wants to have an abortion. It leaves a Black woman staring down the injustice system that is our maternal health system down here. It leaves them staring in the face of death.

AMY GOODMAN: Lakeesha Harris, you only have three abortion clinics in Louisiana anyway. This would have closed it to one. Can you talk about what this means in a time of COVID, and how COVID has had a disproportionate impact on Black and Brown women, and what that means for their reproductive health?

LAKEESHA HARRIS: Yes. So, we only have three clinics here. It would dwindle — this bill would have dwindled us down to one. That would mean that Black and Brown women, as I have stated, would have to travel, you know, beyond this state. And we know that when — during a pandemic and COVID, in the crisis of COVID, that leaves us trying to figure out how we’re going to stay, where we’re going to stay. It leaves us scrambling for funds and money.

And especially when we have a state that is a hot spot, when you travel abroad or beyond the state, you have a 14-day wait that you might have to endure. That’s a time limit on abortion access. Many of them are coming in need, and they need that care almost immediately because they’re under time constraints in different states. So, it has a financial impact. It’s a stressor on people who are pregnant. And it’s an unjust and undue burden that they have to endure.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 10 seconds, Lakeesha, but can you talk about the state constitutional amendment that will be voted on by people in November, Election Day?

LAKEESHA HARRIS: Yes. This was a proposed amendment to state that Louisiana does not support abortion access and that we don’t fund abortion access. And this is coming up on the ballot on November the 3rd, in our presidential elections. And like a lot of presidents said, it has not just a Louisiana impact, but a national impact. So, get out and vote, people, please.

AMY GOODMAN: Lakeesha Harris, we want to thank you for being with us. We’ll continue to follow that, as well as the Supreme Court is expected any day now to hand down its ruling on contraceptives, and we’ll report on that, and you can go to our website to see the latest. Lakeesha Harris, director of reproductive health and Justice at Women with a Vision, based in New Orleans, Louisiana.

When we come back, we head to Jackson, Mississippi, to speak with the head of the NAACP. Mississippi has just struck down its Confederate flag, the last in the nation. We’ll get the latest on that, President Trump’s “white power” retweet and more. Stay with us.

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