abortion clinics closing in the south

Court ruling forces all but one of Louisiana’s abortion clinics to close

Next week, the Supreme Court will start hearing arguments in the monumentally important case against Texas’s anti-choice TRAP law. As if to underscore just how high the stakes are, on Wednesday, an appeals court ruled that Louisiana’s own Texas-style TRAP lawpassed last year and previously blocked by a lower court, is allowed to be enforced. Unless SCOTUS steps in, three out of four of the state’s abortion clinics must close.

Incidentally, I recently moved to Louisiana. I loaded my belongs in a van and drove from Atlanta to New Orleans — making my way from the relative reproductive health oasis of Georgia, which has more than a dozen abortion clinics, through Alabama, with five clinics, through Mississippi, with just one, to Louisiana, which had four when I arrived last month, and is now down to one.

With only one clinic left standing in Louisiana, the nearest abortion provider for many people in the state is the sole clinic in Mississippi, which is only open right now because enforcement of their Texas-style TRAP law has been blocked by the court until SCOTUS gives the final verdict on whether these kinds of laws pose an “undue burden” on the right to choose. If that clinic were shut down, the nearest provider for many Louisiana and Mississippi women would be the five clinics in Alabama — except that four of them would be shut-down if their Texas-style TRAP law currently blocked went into effect.

In other words, if all the Texas-style TRAP laws currently blocked by courts are enforced, the six-and-a-half hour 469-mile drive I took would pass through one state with one abortion provider for a population of 4.8 million people, one state of 3 million people and zero providers, and end up in a state with one provider for 4.7 million people. But, nope, no undue burden to see here!

Irin Carmon explains what the SCOTUS verdict could look like, now that the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s vote is no longer in play:

The outcome of the case still depends on Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vote, but if he sides with the state of Texas and the expected votes of the court’s four other conservatives, the 4-4 tie would limit the result to the Fifth Circuit. That would force abortion clinics to close in Texas, Louisiana, and likely Mississippi, which has an admitting privilege law that would close that state’s last clinic. But a tie would also prevent the Supreme Court from setting a precedent for the entire country, including in states where judges have already blocked similar laws as lacking justification and infringing on women’s rights. Alternatively, Kennedy could vote to strike down the laws nationwide as posing an “undue burden” on women’s previously-recognized constitutional right to end a pregnancy.

In sum: A tie would mean abortion is inaccessible in a huge part of the South. A loss would mean a green light for large swaths of the rest of the country to (continue to) follow suit. So I think this is what we’d call a must-win situation.

Header image credit: Planned Parenthoood

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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