But in the end, Chief Justice Roberts’s commitment to precedent sank the Louisiana law. “I joined the dissent in Whole Woman’s Health,” he wrote on Monday, “and continue to believe that the case was wrongly decided. The question today, however, is not whether Whole Woman’s Health was right or wrong, but whether to adhere to it in deciding the present case.”
“The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons,” the chief justice wrote in a concurring opinion that did not adopt Justice Breyer’s reasoning. “Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents.”
Still, it would be hasty to conclude that Chief Justice Roberts was prepared to strike down other abortion restrictions or that he would vote to sustain the Roe decision, which in 1973 established a constitutional right to abortion, should a direct challenge to the ruling reach the court.
Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, expressed disappointment in Monday’s decision.
“In an unfortunate ruling today,” she said in a statement, “the Supreme Court devalued both the health of mothers and the lives of unborn children by gutting Louisiana’s policy that required all abortion procedures be performed by individuals with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.”
Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, issued a statement saying that “women’s health care rights have been under attack as states across the country have passed extreme laws restricting women’s constitutional right to choice under any circumstance.”
Justice Breyer wrote that the Louisiana law, which was enacted in 2014, imposed great burdens on access to abortion but did nothing to protect women’s health, its ostensible goal. He wrote that hospitalizations after abortions were rare, that women would receive medical care at hospitals whether their doctors had admitting privileges or not and that abortion providers were often unable to obtain admitting privileges for reasons unrelated to their competence.