WASHINGTON — Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Supreme Court's liberal justices to deal a surprising setback to abortion opponents on Monday, striking down a restrictive Louisiana abortion law and reaffirming the court's past rulings that have upheld a woman's right to choose.
By a 5-4 vote, the court threw out a Louisiana law that would have required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. If put into effect, it was expected to result in the closing of all but one of the state's abortion providers.
It came as no surprise that the four liberal justices opposed the law since they struck down a similar Texas law four years ago. But the chief justice, a conservative who has consistently opposed abortion rights in the past and had voted to uphold the Texas law, cast the fifth vote with them, citing precedent as his reason.
It was the court's first abortion ruling since President Donald Trump's two appointees took their seats, and it dashed hopes of abortion opponents who expected the more conservative court to move to repeal Roe vs. Wade, or at least give states more power to narrow it.
It also marked the third major decision in the past two weeks in which the chief justice joined with the court's four liberals. The court extended workplace protections for LGBTQ employees and blocked Trump's repeal of the Obama-era policy that protected so-called Dreamers from deportation.
A statement from the White House press secretary called the decision "unfortunate," adding that "unelected justices have intruded on the sovereign prerogatives of state governments by imposing their own policy preference in favor of abortion to override legitimate abortion safety regulations."
'Bitter disappointment' for abortion opponents
Anti-abortion advocates cast the loss in political terms, saying the ruling underscored the need to reelect Trump in November so he could appoint another conservative justice to provide the fifth voted needed to repeal Roe vs. Wade.
"Today's ruling is a bitter disappointment," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion. "It is imperative that we reelect President Trump and our pro-life majority in the U.S. Senate so we can further restore the judiciary, most especially the Supreme Court."
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said the November election would be critical to protecting abortion rights.
"Let's be clear: Republicans in state legislatures will stop at nothing to get rid of Roe – and we have to be just as strong in our defense of it," Biden said. "They are trying to get these laws appealed to the Supreme Court in the hope that Trump's justices will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. It's wrong. It's pernicious. And we have to stop it."