The Supreme Court just set up an election year fight over Louisiana abortion law that limits access

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Abortion-rights activists gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court to protest against abortion laws passed across the country.

Aurora Samerio | NurPhoto | Getty Images

The Supreme Court announced Friday it will hear arguments over the legality of a contentious Louisiana abortion regulation in its term beginning next week, setting the stage for a fight over reproductive rights in the middle of the 2020 presidential election.

The Louisiana law requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where the abortions are provided. Opponents said it would effectively limit the state of 4½ million to one abortion provider.

The battle over the Louisiana law is expected to be the first major test of how the court’s new conservative majority will approach the issue of reproductive rights. It is the first abortion restriction to come before the justices for argument since the departure of Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose successor, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, was supported by anti-abortion groups.

A decision in the case is expected to be released by the end of June.

It is the second time in three years that a fight over admitting privileges for abortion has made its way to the justices. In 2016, the court struck down a nearly identical Texas law by a vote of 5-3.

Despite that action, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the Louisiana law was permissible because it would have a different impact in Louisiana than it did in Texas.

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“Here, unlike in Texas, the Act does not impose a substantial burden on a large fraction of women,” Circuit Judge Jerry Smith wrote at the time.

The Fifth Circuit decision would have allowed the Louisiana law to go into effect. But in February, the Supreme Court stepped in, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s liberals to put the law on hold.

How the court will ultimately rule on the law remains uncertain. In the time since the court struck down the law in Texas, the composition of the court has changed and become more conservative.

Kennedy, who voted in the majority to strike down the Texas law, has since left the bench, and President Donald Trump’s two appointees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, have joined it.

Kavanaugh’s views on the court’s abortion precedents are largely unknown. He seemed to carve out a middle ground between the court’s majority and his fellow conservatives the last time the Louisiana law came before the court.

In a dissent from the court’s February decision to halt the Louisiana law, Kavanaugh wrote that he would have allowed the Louisiana law to go into effect temporarily, saying that doing so would “resolve the factual uncertainties” before the court ultimately issued a final ruling.

“We are counting on the Court to follow its precedent,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which initiated the challenge against the law, said in a statement. “Otherwise, clinics will needlessly close and there will be just one doctor left in the entire state to provide abortion care.”

The case is known as Rebekah Gee v. June Medical Services, No. 18-1460.

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