In June Medical Services v. Russo, the U.S. Supreme Court sent a resounding message to politicians all across the country: It is unconstitutional to impose medically unnecessary laws that place an undue burden on a person’s right to safe, legal abortion.
On June 29, 2020, the Supreme Court struck down a medically unnecessary law that would have made abortion virtually inaccessible in Louisiana. This decision follows the precedent the Supreme Court set four years ago in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which struck down an identical onerous restriction in Texas. In both cases, the restriction would have shut down many of the abortion providers in the state and placed a substantial obstacle in the path of people seeking an abortion.
Today’s decision aligns with the will of the American people. Seven in 10 people support access to safe, legal abortion.
While this decision allows us to breathe a sigh of relief, far too many people of color and people with low incomes still live in a world where access to abortion is nearly impossible as a result of numerous structural barriers.
Today’s 5–4 decision does not stop other states from trying to impose admitting privileges requirements on abortion providers. The decision also leaves room for all states (including Louisiana) to impose other harmful restrictions, which always have an outsized impact on communities of color and those with low incomes.
We saw politicians in 11 states use the COVID-19 pandemic — which has now sickened more than 1.5 million Americans — as a pretense to block access to abortion. And just like restrictions on abortion, because of racism built into our economic and health care systems, the pandemic has hurt Black and Latinx communities more.
We expect the administration to continue to nominate federal judges hostile to reproductive health. These judges will be deciding our rights for decades, including on many cases that could undermine Roe v. Wade.
Abortion is still legal and available. But for many people, accessing abortion is extremely difficult — and, in some cases, it's impossible without independent clinics like the one at the center of today's case.
You can support independent abortion providers at keepourclinics.org! Share what you learn there with the hashtag #KeepOurClinics.
What Just Happened — and What’s Still at Stake
June Medical Services v. Russo (formerly v. Gee) was about admitting privileges, a type of targeted restriction on abortion providers (TRAP) law designed to shut down health centers while giving lip service to “women’s health.”
The Supreme Court confirmed what we’ve long known: Medically unnecessary abortion restrictions only make it harder on people who need care. Restricting abortion until it is virtually inaccessible is unconstitutional.
This decision means Louisiana’s three remaining health centers that provide abortion can continue caring for patients.
However, Louisiana’s remaining abortion providers are not nearly enough for the 850,000 Louisiana women of reproductive age. Over a quarter of these women are Black, and as such face additional barriers to care due to the history of systemic racism and economic inequality.
Abortion is protected — for now. This is a national victory for the millions of people who already struggle just to access basic health care. However, we still face an onslaught of attacks on reproductive health care.
The Supreme Court sent a clear message to politicians across the country: Stop trying to take away access to safe, legal abortion.—Alexis McGill Johnson, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Action Fund
A Looming Threat
We don’t expect the attacks on abortion access to slow down. In fact, we expect the administration and its allies in the Senate to double down on remaking the federal courts to promote their anti-abortion rights agenda. The White House and Senate majority leadership have been rushing through judicial nominees even now, amid the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and protests against racist police violence.
Meanwhile, 16 abortion cases are one step away from the Supreme Court and a decision in any of those could upend abortion access in other states. And it’s not just abortion: In a matter of days, the Supreme Court will decide on whether employers can drop coverage for birth control for health insurance based on their personal objections; and this fall, the court will consider overturning the Affordable Care Act altogether.
Intersections: Race and Abortion Access
It’s a fact: Your ability to access abortion is still determined by where you live and how much money you make — and in the U.S., that effectively also means the color of your skin.
For Black people in particular, there can be no reproductive freedom until there is freedom to live without fear of persecution or violence. That violence can be as blatant as police brutality, or as subtle as policies that undermine their ability to control their bodies, lives and futures.
The same politicians who use oppressive policing as a tool of control to deprive Black people of their freedom push policies that also take away Black people’s reproductive rights. Full bodily autonomy is the ability to make personal decisions about your body without judgment — and the freedom to live without your existence being policed.
America: State of Emergency for Public Health
People have continued to need safe, legal abortion throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — but politicians actively disrupted people’s access to abortion. This created a public health crisis within a public health crisis, and it particularly hurts people who have less access to health care and health insurance.
We also know that racism is a public health crisis — a crisis that Planned Parenthood health center staff witness firsthand. COVID-19 is disproportionately ravaging the health and economic stability of the Black community. Systemic inequities that block Black people's access to basic health care are, in turn, intensified by violence inflicted under the badge of government authority. Public health is built on the principle of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities, and police violence is antithetical to that mission.
As our nation confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, we must also address the public health crisis that racism presents. Politicians might not care about your health and rights — but we do. And we will not back down from this fight.