Ahead of Supreme Court Hearing, Researchers Say Abortion Law Will Harm Women’s Health

By Laura Kurtzman

US Supreme Court building exterior

Researchers at UC San Francisco and the University of Texas at Austin have filed an amicus brief on June Medical Services v. Gee, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a Louisiana law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at hospitals and arguing that these requirements are medically unnecessary and will harm women’s health.

In the brief, which has been signed by more than 50 social scientists across the country, researchers at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), a collaborative research group based at UCSF, and the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) survey evidence from more than 20 studies on the safety of abortion, the harms of denying women abortions when they seek them, and what happens when abortion providers are required to obtain admitting privileges.

It concludes that, in addition to being medically unjustified, laws that require abortion providers to have admitting privileges force abortion clinics to close. If Louisiana clinics close, the brief argues, women will have to travel much further to get abortions. Currently, 99 percent of Louisiana women of reproductive age live within 150 miles of an abortion facility. But if the admitting privileges law goes into effect, that will drop to 53 percent.

“The admitting privileges law will increase the considerable barriers to obtaining an abortion that Louisiana women already face, and thus harm women’s health,” said Sarah Roberts, DrPH, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at UCSF. “Abortion is incredibly safe, and we urge the Supreme Court to reject this law, given that the research shows it will hurt the health of Louisiana residents.”

Louisiana’s admitting privileges law is similar to a Texas law that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in 2016 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. In that case, the court ruled that admitting privileges were medically unnecessary and imposed an undue burden on women. 

“In Texas, we have already seen the impact of laws requiring admitting privileges,” said Kari White, PhD, MPH, associate professor of sociology and social work at UT Austin. “Our research shows that clinic closures following enforcement of the law created more barriers to abortion in Texas, which led to unnecessary delays for some women and prevented others from getting care. The Supreme Court should consider the volume of evidence, as it did when it decided Texas’ law was unconstitutional.”

The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on March 4, 2020, and is expected to issue a ruling by June.