Unions join Supreme Court battle against Louisiana reproductive rights restrictions
Abortion-rights advocates gather to protest anti-abortion legislation during a "Just Laws or Outlaws: Take to the Streets" event organized by New Orleans Abortion Fund, Women With a Vision, the New Orleans Peoples' Assembly, and BYP 100 on May 22, 2019 in New Orleans. | Michael DeMocker / NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune via AP

WASHINGTON (PAI)—Declaring “a constitutional right that is not accessible because of state-imposed barriers is no right at all,” a group of unions joined more than 60 other organizations in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Louisiana’s tough restrictions on reproductive choice.

In a friend-of-the-court brief authored by the National Women’s Law Center, the unions argue that if the justices uphold the Louisiana law, as lower courts did, almost one million Louisiana women would be left to scramble for reproductive rights, as there would be only one provider of abortions in one clinic in the entire state.

Unions joining the case on the side of the women, and against Louisiana’s law, include the Coalition of Labor Union Women, AFSCME, both NEA and AFT teachers unions, the Asian-Pacific American Labor Alliance, and the Service Employees. The National Consumers League is on the brief, too.

Planned Parenthood filed its own brief defending the clinic and arguing against Louisiana’s law. So did 197 congressional Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. And so did dozens of women—most of them lawyers—who had abortions.

The Louisiana law is similar to a Texas abortion restriction the justices bounced several years ago as being too restrictive on women’s choice.

But since that ruling, anti-woman anti-choice GOP President Donald Trump got the GOP Senate majority to vote two right-wing justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, onto the court.

That shift in the judicial lineup gave right-wingers, who filed numerous friend-of-the-court briefs, “right-to-lifers,” and Trump’s Justice Department the chance to get the High Court to uphold the Louisiana law and similar restrictions nationwide.

The court heard the case, June Medical Services vs. Dr. Rebekah Gee, on March 4. Gee heads the Louisiana Health Department. Pro-choice groups, including the ACLU, the National Organization for Women, and People for the American Way, demonstrated outside the court as the justices heard an hour of argument from the lawyers inside.

“Abortion restrictions such as” Louisiana’s “Act 620 deny women the right to liberty guaranteed under the 14th Amendment’s due process” of law “clause by unduly burdening a woman’s right to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term,” the friend of the court brief the unions signed said.

“These laws impose substantial costs on women and deprive them of the ability to participate in society on equal terms.”

“As this court has repeatedly affirmed, the Constitution protects ‘personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child-rearing, and education’ because such decisions are among ‘the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices…central to liberty protected by the 14th Amendment.’”

Well-off women can obtain abortions and other family planning services, the brief points out, but poorer women need the doctors and the clinics. The Louisiana law, which bars any abortions at a clinic unless at least one of its doctors is licensed at a hospital within 30 miles of that clinic, would shut all but one clinic in the state. No brief said where the last clinic would be.

That shutdown “burdens women’s ability to make reproductive decisions,” and produces “resulting negative impacts that deny women’s equal participation in social and economic life.”

“These include significant and at times insurmountable costs that threaten women’s financial well-being, job security, workforce participation, educational attainment, health, personal security, and autonomy.”

The burden particularly would hit low-income women, poor women, women of color, women who already have kids, “women subjected to intimate partner violence, and transgender and non-binary individuals,” it warns. State data show 70% of Louisianan women who got abortions in 2018, the most recent year statistics are available, were women of color.

That burden and the resulting impacts deprives those women “of the right to liberty promised by the Constitution.”

 “A constitutional right that is not accessible because of state-imposed barriers is no right at all,” their brief declares.

The reproductive choice restrictions, including abortion restrictions, also harken back to decades of stereotyped sex roles, which the justices have since abandoned, the brief says.

“In particular, principles of ‘male dominance’ and woman-as-mother were ‘once habitual,’” it points out. Those decisions and state rules emphasized, “the paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother.”

“Laws that deprive women of their ability to decide whether to end a pregnancy force women to fulfill that same destiny. The court has since made clear “this ‘ancient principle’ [of ‘male dominance’] no longer guides the court’s jurisprudence,” the brief laconically adds.

Those laws, like Louisiana’s, also “suggest women are incapable of making decisions affecting their own bodies,” it notes. If the justices uphold the Louisiana law, “The court risks repeating and even worsening the ‘long and unfortunate history of sex discrimination,” it says.

The court will decide the case by June 30, right in the middle of the 2020 campaign.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.