The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Louisiana law that would have curtailed access to abortions in the state, and that was nearly identical to a measure the court overturned in Texas in 2016.
The ruling is a win for advocates of abortion access, who feared the case could pave the way for states to impose greater restrictions on the procedure. And it could have had far-reaching effects in Texas where there are more than 6 million reproductive age women. More than 53,800 abortions were performed in Texas in 2017, including 1,1,74 for out-of-state residents, according to government data. The GOP-controlled Legislature routinely introduces regulations restricting abortion access, and the state's Republican attorney general recently fought to enforce a near-total ban during the coronavirus outbreak.
Monday's decision was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the liberal justices to strike down the Louisiana law. He had dissented in the 2016 decision that found Texas' restrictions placed an undue burden on a woman's constitutional right to an abortion.
"The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law," Roberts wrote.
The case is seen as a harbinger of how a reconstituted U.S. Supreme Court may rule on abortion issues going forward. Since the Texas case was decided in 2016, the Court's ideological center has shifted to the right with the addition of Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch — both appointed by President Donald Trump, who pledged to appoint pro-life justices who would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
At issue in Monday's decision is a Louisiana law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. It's strikingly similar to a Texas law the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in 2016 saying there was no proof the requirement better protected women's health. At the same time, “sufficient evidence" showed the admitting-privileges requirement shut down about half the abortion clinics in the state — more than quadrupling the number of reproductive age women living more than 150 miles away from one.
While the requirement was in effect in Texas, the number of abortions performed in the state declined from around 63,000 in 2013 to 54,000 the next year, according to government data.
In neighboring Louisiana, where some 10,000 women seek abortions each year, one clinic and one doctor would be left to perform the procedure if the admitting privileges requirement went into effect, the law's challengers said.
State officials say admitting-privileges are meant to protect women's health and ensure doctors are qualified. But advocates of abortion access say it is medically unnecessary because the procedure rarely results in hospitalization. When complications do arise, they often occur after the woman has left the clinic, critics of the law say. And admitting privileges are denied for reasons unrelated to the doctors' abilities; abortion providers, for example, can face difficulties qualifying for them because their patients are transferred to the hospital so infrequently, those critics said.
In the case decided Monday, lawyers challenging the Louisiana law argued it is a carbon copy of the Texas requirement, which was struck down for imposing an undue burden on women seeking abortions. The state's lawyers said the facts in Louisiana are different, and that clinics and doctors lack the legal standing to challenge the law for their patients.
Advocates of abortion access celebrated the ruling, but expressed worry about future fights over the procedure.
“We're relieved that the Louisiana law has been blocked today but we're concerned about tomorrow," said Nancy Northup, head of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a nonprofit that represented the Louisiana abortion providers. “Unfortunately, the Court's ruling today will not stop those hell-bent on banning abortion."
The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.