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Supreme Court To Take On Abortion


It's been almost exactly a year since Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as U.S. Supreme Court justice, moving the court to the right. And now the court says it will consider the constitutionality of a Louisiana abortion law similar to one it overturned three years ago. As NPR's Sarah McCammon reports, the court will hear the case as the country prepares for the 2020 election.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Like the Texas law that was overturned in 2016, the Louisiana law requires doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges. It's unusual for the Supreme Court to revisit an issue so soon, says Karen O'Connor, a political scientist at American University. What's different now, O'Connor says, are two new justices, both appointed by President Trump.

KAREN O'CONNOR: It's almost like the witches of "Macbeth" stirring the pot because they've been waiting so long to be able to actually make substantive reductions in women's right to have an abortion.

MCCAMMON: O'Connor says the case could open the door to an onslaught of new state restrictions designed to make abortion inaccessible. Elizabeth Slattery, a legal fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation, is glad the court is revisiting the issue. She hopes the justices will allow states like Louisiana to regulate abortion as they see fit.

ELIZABETH SLATTERY: In my estimation, I think this is an issue that should be left up to legislators rather than judges. Legislators are more, you know, accountable to the people and can be more responsive to changes in medical technology and things we know about what point a baby can survive outside of the womb and those sorts of things.

MCCAMMON: If the Louisiana law is upheld, abortion rights advocates like Alexis McGill Johnson of Planned Parenthood fear a flood of new restrictions.

ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON: We have to continue to fight within our state legislatures to empower, to educate voters and supporters around the real critical threat that's happening to women across this country.

MCCAMMON: Advocates on both sides predict abortion will loom large in the 2020 campaign at the state and national levels. Mallory Quigley is with the anti-abortion-rights group the Susan B. Anthony List.

MALLORY QUIGLEY: This issue is going to remain front and center. And this and the other pro-life laws that are in ongoing litigation right now will provide many opportunities for the candidates to speak into these issues.

MCCAMMON: The Supreme Court begins its new term on Monday, and a decision in the Louisiana abortion case could come a few months before the 2020 election.

Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.