The United States Supreme Court has struck down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics, reasserting a commitment to abortion rights over fierce opposition from dissenting conservative justices in the first big abortion case of the Trump era.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined with his four more liberal colleagues in ruling on Monday that a Lousiana law that imposes restrictions on abortion doctors violates the abortion right the court first announced in the landmark Roe v Wade decision in 1973.
In two previous abortion cases, Roberts had favoured restrictions.
"The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law," Roberts wrote, although he did not join the opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer for the other liberals.
In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, "Today a majority of the Court perpetuates its ill-founded abortion jurisprudence by enjoining a perfectly legitimate state law and doing so without jurisdiction."
President Donald Trump’s two appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, were in dissent, along with Justice Samuel Alito. The presence of the new justices is what fueled hopes among abortion opponents, and fears on the other side, that the Supreme Court would be more likely to uphold restrictions.
The Republican-backed Louisiana law includes a requirement that doctors who perform abortions have a difficult-to-obtain arrangement called "admitting privileges" at a hospital within 48km (30 miles) of the abortion clinic.Similar case
The Louisiana law is virtually identical to one in Texas that the court struck down in 2016, when conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the four liberal justices to defend abortion rights, but Kennedy retired in 2018 and Republican President Donald Trump replaced him with conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, with the court moving further to the right.
The court reviewed a September 2018 ruling by the New Orleans-based Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the Louisiana law. The Supreme Court in February on a five-four vote prevented the law from going into effect while litigation over its legality continued.
Since Kavanaugh joined the court last October, it has sent mixed signals on abortion. The court in June declined to hear a bid by Alabama to revive a Republican-enacted law that would have effectively banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
In May, it refused to consider reinstating Indiana's ban on abortions performed because of fetal disability or the sex or race of the fetus while upholding the state's requirement that fetal remains be buried or cremated after an abortion.