June Medical Services, LLC v. Gee
|June Medical Services, LLC v. Gee|
|Full case name||June Medical Services, LLC, et al. v. Rebekah Gee, Secretary, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals|
June Medical Services, LLC v. Gee is a current court case within the Supreme Court of the United States dealing with the constitutionality of a Louisiana state law related to abortion practices. The state law, mirroring one that had passed in Texas, requires doctors performing abortions to have admission privileges at a state-authorized hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of the abortion clinic. As in Texas, this law would have limited abortions to one single doctor in the state, as other doctors had not yet gained admission privileges or are outside the given range. The Texas law was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States under Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (WWH) in 2016, on the basis that limiting clinic availability was an undue burden on women seeking legal abortions, a constitutional right as determined by the landmark Roe v. Wade case.
The Louisiana law, Act 620, passed in 2014 and was shortly challenged by one of the affected clinics and two doctors who would be forced to close under the law, simultaneous to the legal challenge leading to WWH in Texas. The case was put on hold while WWH's was resolved at the Supreme Court, and in its decision, the Supreme Court ordered the District Court to review the June Medical Services case using the basis of WWH. The District Court had found Act 620 unconstitutional identifying that the same conditions that applied to Texas' law found in WWH applied here. On challenge to the Fifth Circuit, the Appeals Court reversed the district court's findings, citing that the situation in Louisiana called for a different means of review under WWH. The Fifth Circuit's decision would have allowed the law to be enforceable in February 2019. The Supreme Court granted an emergency stay to review the pending petition by the abortion doctors to challenge the Fifth Circuit's ruling, and will hear arguments in the full case during its 2019 term.
June Medical Services is considered a potentially important case on abortion rights in the United States, as it is the first abortion-related case to be heard by both Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, two justices that are considered conservative. The Supreme Court's decision concerns some pro-choice advocates that it will override Roe v. Wade.
Before Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt
Around 2013, several states including Texas had passed laws that, among other clauses, would require abortion doctors to have admission privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of their abortion clinic, on the basis that if something went wrong with the abortion procedure, the patient can be rushed and treated at a nearby hospital. These laws were ostensibly about the importance of patient safety, but several of those behind crafting the laws spoke to using them to block abortions in their states. To have admission privileges, the doctor must effectively be an approved practitioner at that hospital. This can be a difficult process for a doctor, since hospitals expect admitting doctors to provide them with patients to be fiscally viable, and abortion doctors do not regularly provide such patients. In the case of Texas, its law Texas House Bill 2 (HB2), passed in mid-2013. By the time this part of the law came into effect in November 2013, only 19 of 42 abortion clinics remained open, leaving some women with their closest center more than 300 miles (480 km) away. Legal challenges from affected clinics were launched just prior to the November date. A first challenge ended in the Fifth Circuit which vacated a District Court's stay of enforcement with the Supreme Court declining to overrule, allowing the rule to come into effect. A second lawsuit on more focused terms and focusing on two specific clinics affected by the law was started in April 2014. This suit, finding similar resistance in the Fifth Circuit, eventually reached the Supreme Court as Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt; the Court agreed to hear the case in November 2015, oral arguments in March 2016 (some weeks after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia), and decided in June 2016. The 5-3 decision found that, on the basis that the right to have an abortion is a constitutional right from Roe v. Wade, the Texas law requirement on admitting privileges at a nearby hospital created an undue burden for women who were seeking to have abortions.
While the cases related to Texas HB2 had started and after the Fifth Circuit had issued its first vacating towards the stay, Louisiana's state legislation introduced and passed Act 620 by June 2014 modeled off the Texas law. At that point, the state had six abortion clinics, and only one that would make the admitting privileges requirement by the September 2014 enforcement date. The five affected doctors attempted to secure admitting privileges before September but were denied, leading the clinics to seek a preliminary injunction to prevent the law from coming into effect. The challenge was heard in the Middle District Court of Louisiana by Judge John W. deGravelles, which granted the injunction. The state appealed this to the Fifth Circuit. The three-judge panel unanimously agreed to vacate the District Court's injunction, allowing Act 620 to in effect in February 15, 2016, which forced at least two clinics to immediately close. The clinics sought an emergency stay on the Fifth Circuit's decision from the Supreme Court, which granted the stay on March 5, 2016, halting enforcement and allowing the clinics to continue. The Supreme Court, which had just heard the oral arguments in WWH, stated that the courts should wait on its decision in WWH and rehear the case based on its outcome.
After Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt
With the Supreme Court's stay on enforcement of Act 620 in place, the full case was heard before Judge deGravelles at the District Court. deGravelles found in favor of the plaintiffs in April 2017 and deeming Act 620 unconstitutional, applying the Supreme Court's "undue burden" tests from WWH similarly to Louisiana's laws in his 117-page opinion. deGravelles granted a permanent injunction on the state from enforcing Act 620. The state again appealed to the Fifth Circuit. In a 2-1 decision issued in September 2018, Judges Jerry Edwin Smith and Edith Brown Clement reversed the District Court's decision. In the majority opinion, the Fifth Circuit found that in applying the undue burden test, only about 30% of the women in the state would be affected by the law, and only due to longer waiting times to have the abortion procedure should one affected clinic close. The majority also found that in contrast to the Texas's admission privilege's requirements, Louisiana's were less strict, making it easier for those doctors to obtain it. Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham wrote in his dissent that in applying the undue burden test, the state shows no compelling medical benefit to override the right to an abortion. 
The plaintiffs sought an en banc hearing from the full Fifth Circuit, but this request was denied, with Act 620 set to come into effect on February 4, 2019. The 5th circuit denied a rehearing by a vote of 9-6. Chief Judge Carl E. Stewart, and Judges James L. Dennis, Leslie H. Southwick, James E. Graves, Jr., Stephen A. Higginson, and Gregg Costa voted to rehear. Dennis wrote a 19 page dissent, which Higginbotham, Graves, and Higginson joined. Higginson wrote a 1 page dissent. Judges Jones, Smith, Owen, Elrod, Haynes, Willett, Ho, Engelhardt, and Oldham voted not to rehear.  The plaintiffs issued a request to Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito to issue an emergency stay on the law by January 29, 2019. The Supreme Court issued an order based on a 5-4 split to stay the enforcement of the act pending a full review of the plaintiff's petition and a full hearing in the Supreme Court, should they grant writ of certiorari. The majority included Chief Justice John Roberts (who had previously joined the dissent in WWH) along with the four liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. The dissenting justices included Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Only Kavanaugh wrote an opinion alongside the order, stating that he believed that three of the doctors affected by the admitting privileges could still obtain these, and had no yet demonstrated it was impossible for them to get it, eliminating the undue burden on women. In addition to requesting an emergency stay on the Fifth Circuit's decision, the clinics also petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case.
The Supreme Court of the United States accepted the writ of certiorari in the case to be heard during the 2019 term.
June Medical Services is the first abortion-related case to reach the court following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who have since been replaced by Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. While Scalia had generally been against abortion rights, joining the dissent in WWH, Kennedy had generally been favorable towards abortion rights. Both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are considered conservative justices nominated by President Donald Trump, and give the court a 5 to 4 conservative majority. More specifically, Kavanaugh has been against abortion rights from his previous court appointments and during his nomination process to the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh's dissent to the Court's emergency order on February 7 raised concerns of the Democrats and pro-choice groups.
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