Abortion Access Precedent Confirmed: June v. Russo

2016: Supreme Court decision to strike down Texas abortion law

In 2016, I posted “Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt: Finally, Facts Matter,” applauding the U.S. Supreme Court for its decision to strike down a Texas law that required abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of their clinic, causing more than half the state’s abortion clinics to shut down.

On June 29, 2020, in June Medical Services v. Russo (June), the court struck down Louisiana’s near-identical attempt to erect barriers to abortion. Surprisingly, Chief Justice John Roberts joined Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan to strike down this law, but Roberts did so mostly on the basis of the Texas case precedent, not on the merits of the case argued in Justice Breyer’s majority opinion.

2020: Supreme Court decision to strike down Louisiana abortion law

Roberts wrote a concurring opinion that ended with this paragraph:

“Stare decisis instructs us to treat like cases alike. The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law. The Louisiana law burdens women seeking previability abortions to the same extent as the Texas law, according to factual findings that are not clearly erroneous. For that reason, I concur in the judgment of the Court that the Louisiana law is unconstitutional.”

Roberts joined the majority not because he’s newly supportive of abortion rights, but because he felt bound by the precedent set in 2016. Attorneys for many other abortion cases wending their ways through district and appellate courts are asking the question: “What does this mean for our cases?” Answer: “You need to structure your arguments to convince the Chief Justice.” Continue reading

The Kennedy Retirement and the Radicalizing of the Supreme Court

Protesters swarmed Washington, DC, to voice their opposition to Brett Kavanaugh.

When Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court, alarms went up about overturning Roe v. Wade, which would make abortion once again illegal in many states. As shown in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, in which Kennedy provided the decisive fifth vote overturning Texas’ draconian laws limiting abortion access, one justice can preserve the right to abortion. But Kennedy also voted with the majority in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, when the Supreme Court upheld a state’s right to impose extra requirements — mandatory counseling, waiting periods, etc. — on those seeking abortions. So, while he was willing to curtail access, he never was willing to overturn Roe v. Wade altogether.


In Brett Kavanaugh’s twisted worldview, paperwork is the true burden, while an unwanted pregnancy is not.


But Kennedy was the last independent conservative on the Supreme Court. Anyone Trump nominated was going to be on the far right because he was using the Federalist Society’s list compiled by Leonard Leo. Not quite a kingmaker, but definitely a justice-maker, Leo is also responsible for Justices Roberts, Alito, and Gorsuch.

But some on the right have some doubts about Kavanaugh. In response, the National Review emphasizes Kavanaugh’s judicial defense of “religious freedom.” (Nothing shows the real danger Kavanaugh poses like pundits on the far right reassuring other conservatives.) They lauded Kavanaugh’s ruling in favor of the Trump administration in the case of Jane Doe, the teenage immigrant the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) tried to stop from having an abortion, as “the latest in a long, unbroken line of consistent decisions on issues of religion and abortion.” Continue reading

Courting Women

Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan: Sitting Supreme Court Justices

Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan: Sitting Supreme Court Justices

“… [T]he difference of having three women on the Supreme Court. I think that all the justices obviously are important in that court, but it really makes a difference to begin to have a court that more reflects the diversity of this country, and I think women who can really speak from a woman’s point of view, just how impactful these kind of laws that specifically target women and women’s access to health care, how impactful they are. And I was really grateful to have the women’s voices in the room.”

Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood president, March 2, 2016, commenting on that day’s oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

Me, too, Cecile.

Courting women. Let’s snatch that phrase from the parlor in a Jane Austen novel and lob it into the Supreme Court chambers, making courting not the passive “pick me” word of yesteryear, but an assertive “empower me” word of today.

Power, judiciously applied, is what Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan demonstrated during oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. They formed a tag team of relentless logic, assertiveness, and deep understanding of the predicament of women in Texas needing timely, accessible abortion care — and not getting it. The court was probing two provisions of Texas HB2, the law that requires that (1) physicians performing abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital near their clinics and (2) all abortions must be performed in ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs, mini-hospitals). (See SCOTUSblog “Round Up” and Roe v. Wade: Texas Then and Now for additional background on this important case.)

Justices explored the elements that create an unconstitutional “undue burden” for women seeking an abortion by questioning attorney Stephanie Toti, representing Whole Woman’s Health, and Solicitor General Scott Keller, representing Texas. Here are some highlights: Continue reading

20 Years Since Planned Parenthood v. Casey

The U.S. Supreme Court, presided over by William H. Rehnquist, decided Planned Parenthood v. Casey 20 years ago.

This Friday, June 29, marks the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey.

I first learned about the Supreme Court decision of Planned Parenthood v. Casey about 10 years ago. I was sitting in a constitutional law class in a suburban university. It was my first introduction to abortion access restrictions whose names are now commonplace to me: mandatory counseling sessions, 24-hour waiting periods, parental consent, spousal notification, and reporting requirements.

Basically, the facts of the case look like this. In 1989, Pennsylvania amended its Abortion Control Act to require:

  • the person undergoing the abortion to give informed consent and receive mandatory counseling, including alternatives to abortion.
  • a 24-hour waiting period between the counseling appointment and the procedure itself.
  • parental consent for minors, with available judicial bypass.
  • a spousal notification requirement.
  • reporting requirements for providers.

Geography, relationships, and other life realities are perfectly capable of creating their own “undue burdens.”


The state’s Planned Parenthood association challenged the statute and — fast forwarding a bunch — the case eventually ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that the standard for whether a state could enact a restriction to abortion access was whether that restriction placed an “undue burden” on the person seeking the abortion. A burden would be considered undue “if its purpose or effect is to place substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”

Of the restrictions enumerated in Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act, the Court considered only the spousal notification requirement an undue burden. Continue reading