Yesterday, the National Health Law Program and National Network of Abortion Funds filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court in June Medical Services v. Gee. The case challenges Louisiana Act 620, which would require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic.
An identical Texas law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The Court said the admitting privileges requirement provided no health benefits, and would in fact cause most abortion clinics in the state to close. The Court held that making access to abortion care so difficult that it was effectively unavailable violates the Constitution.
Our brief supports the groups challenging the Louisiana law because, just like the Texas law, it will make obtaining abortion care so difficult that most pregnant people will lose access. The district court found that if Act 620 is implemented, it will force clinics to close, resulting in only one clinic offering abortion care in all of Louisiana.
We highlight the particular impact on low-income pregnant Louisianans. Our brief explains that, with fewer clinics in operation people will have to travel longer distances to reach care, which drives up costs for everyone.
These burdens will be felt exponentially by low-income Louisianans – the vast majority of whom will not be able to access abortion care at all if the law is implemented. Poverty rates in Louisiana are the third highest in the nation. Communities of color, survivors of intimate partner violence, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and gender non-conforming people (LGBTQ-GNC) are even more likely to live in poverty. These populations are therefore especially likely to experience the Louisiana law as a practical ban on their right to have an abortion.
At the same time, low-income pregnant people are more likely to need abortion care and less likely to be able to afford it.
Bans on insurance coverage of abortion care make access even harder. In Louisiana, Medicaid does not pay for abortion care, except in extremely rare cases. The costs of obtaining abortion care without insurance coverage are prohibitively high for low-income people, who as a result, often delay care while trying to pull together the necessary funds. A first trimester abortion in Louisiana costs $500, yet a person making minimum wage in Louisiana earns $1,208 per month.
A pregnant person must pay for other costs associated with accessing abortion care like lost wages, child care, gas, or overnight stays. This forces low-income pregnant Louisianans to either forego the necessities of life, including food, medicine, and housing, in order to cover the out-of-pocket costs of an abortion, or carry a pregnancy to term. Yet, ironically, it is often the inability to financially care for a child that drives pregnant people to seek abortion care, creating a cruel double bind.
The Louisiana law only makes these problems worse. When abortion access is limited by medically unnecessary requirements like Act 620, people will be forced to carry pregnancies to term, hazarding their health and lives due to the risks associated with pregnancy, labor, and delivery. People who carry a pregnancy to term after seeking abortion care are also much more likely to experience long-term poverty. Again, the impact on low-income people of color, LGBTQ-GNC people, and survivors of intimate partner violence is even greater, due to disproportionate rates of poverty in these communities.
Our brief provides important context to the Court about the impact of Louisiana’s burdensome law on low-income people who need abortion care. This brief will help the Court understand why it is important to make the same decision it reached three years ago in considering Texas’s identical law: Act 620 creates an unconstitutional burden on abortion access that disproportionately impacts low-income pregnant Louisianans, especially low-income people of color, LGBTQ-GNC people, and survivors of intimate partner violence.