The ‘Dire Risk’ Louisiana Faces in the ‘June Medical Services’ Decision

How the U.S. Supreme Court justices decide June Medical Services v. Russo will have major implications for marginalized communities across Louisiana and the United States.

[Photo: A staged die-in with a black woman in the middle and various individuals sitting in a circle around her. They all wear white shirts that have pro-abortion messaging.]
Reproductive rights activists organized a "die in" for abortion access at the Louisiana State Capitol in March 2019. Courtesy of Nisa East

For coverage of June Medical Services v. Russo, check out our Special Report.

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear arguments in June Medical Services v. Russo, a case concerning a Louisiana anti-abortion law that would close all but one of the state’s remaining clinics and leave just a single doctor providing abortion care.

My organization, Women With a Vision, and others dedicated to the fight for reproductive justice recently told the Court that this law would be devastating to marginalized communities in Louisiana and across the country. Instead of denying patients access to reproductive health care, we must uplift and empower pregnant people to make their own decisions and control their own lives.

Louisiana’s clinic shutdown law, known as Act 620, would forbid doctors from providing abortion care if they do not have admitting privileges at a local hospital—a medically unnecessary requirement intended to make it harder for doctors to practice. This law is flatly unconstitutional, and it is identical to a Texas law that the Supreme Court struck down less than four years ago.

Act 620 poses a dire risk to all people in Louisiana who need reproductive health care. But its consequences will be felt most severely by Louisiana’s most marginalized populations, including low-income people, people of color, LGBTQI people, people with disabilities, and immigrants.

For these communities, Act 620 will impose burdens on their access to reproductive health care that could be nearly impossible to overcome. Existing social conditions and restrictive laws already limit access to health care. For instance, only 38 percent of Black Louisianans live in households with a livable income. Many lack access to cars or reliable public transportation. More than 40 percent of all Louisianans live in doctor deserts, with no access to primary health-care professionals. And Louisiana residents who rely on Medicaid insurance must pay for abortion out of pocket because of the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of government funds for abortion care. The procedure can cost patients several hundred dollars on its own—more than many can afford on a low-income budget.

It gets worse. Louisiana has one of the country’s highest maternal mortality rates—a public health crisis that disproportionately afflicts Black and indigenous communities. Louisiana also has high rates of unintended pregnancy, thanks in part to low-quality sexual education, which, when taught at all, is limited to abstinence-only messaging. Few new parents in Louisiana receive paid family leave: Only 35 percent of new mothers in the state were able to take any paid leave, compared to the national average of 55 percent. And people of color and people living in poverty have borne the brunt of the harmful side effects from the state’s environmental injustices like high lead levels and continued public health risks in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Shutting down nearly all the state’s abortion clinics and leaving a single provider—as Act 620 would do—would worsen many of these barriers. Under the law, 71 percent of people seeking abortion care in Louisiana will have to travel more than 150 miles to get an abortion.

Traveling long distances is particularly onerous for people with disabilities and undocumented immigrants, and longer travel means people will need to pay more for transportation and lodging. They’ll have to take more time off from work (two full days, because of a mandatory delay law for abortion patients in Louisiana) and lose pay. Those with children will have to arrange for childcare. And all will have to come up with the money to pay for these costs, often by borrowing from family, partners, or predatory lenders.

These heightened barriers will delay abortion care for many, and make it impossible altogether for some. Research shows that denying abortions to people who want them compromises their financial security, physical safety, and health and well-being. Those forced to carry an unintended pregnancy to term are more likely to live in poverty, experience depression and anxiety, and stay with violent partners.

Despite endless attempts by anti-choice lawmakers to control our reproductive lives, meaningful access to safe and legal abortion is a human right. All people have the right to make decisions, free from coercion, about whether and when to have children, and the right to parent children they do have with dignity. These tenets of reproductive justice necessitate that the people of Louisiana have access to safe abortion care, as well as the supportive environment required to enable reproductive decisions unfettered by government control over people’s actions and bodies.

How the Supreme Court justices decide June Medical Services will have major implications for marginalized communities across Louisiana and the United States. We must fight against all attempts to control people’s reproductive autonomy and fight to achieve reproductive justice and meaningful self-determination for all.