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Top court strikes down Louisiana abortion law; critics blast ruling

NEW YORK (AP) — Abortion opponents vented their disappointment and fury on Monday after the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision to strike down a Louisiana law that would have curbed abortion access.

A divided Supreme Court struck down on Monday a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics, reasserting a commitment to abortion rights over fierce opposition from dissenting conservative justices in the first big abortion case of the era of President Donald Trump.

Chief Justice John Roberts and his four more liberal colleagues ruled that the law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals violates abortion rights the court first announced in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

The outcome is not the last word on the decades-long fight over abortion with dozens of state-imposed restrictions winding their way through the courts. But the decision was a surprising defeat for abortion opponents, who thought that a new conservative majority with two of Trump’s appointees on board would start chipping away at abortion access.

The ruling delivered a defeat to anti-abortion activists but could intensify interest in the November election among religious conservatives who are a key part of Trump’s base. Some top religious conservative backers of Trump noted pointedly that both justices he had named to the high court dissented from Monday’s decision. The conservatives portrayed that fact as an argument to ensure Trump has another term in office to potentially tap more conservative nominees.

The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life and a member of Trump’s Catholic voter outreach effort, said the president’s “two appointees voted the right way” in supporting Louisiana’s ability to require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

“Once again this ruling underscores the importance of elections,” Pavone said in a statement. “We need a solid pro-life majority on the Supreme Court to uphold the rights of women and the unborn.”

Johnnie Moore, an evangelical adviser to the Trump administration, said the decision could help motivate anti-abortion activists to vote to re-elect the president to give him a third chance to put a nominee on the Supreme Court.

“Conservatives know they are on the one-yard-line,” Moore tweeted. “Enthusiasm is already unprecedented, evangelical turnout will be too.”

The Trump campaign also invoked the decision to appeal to voters in a statement from deputy communications director Ali Pardo.

“This case underscores the importance of re-electing President Trump, who has a record of appointing conservative judges, rather than Joe Biden, who will appoint radical, activist judges who will legislate from the courts,” Pardo said.

Some right-leaning abortion foes — including at least three congressional Republicans — responded to the decision by criticizing Roberts, who was appointed by President George W. Bush. Roberts concurred with the court’s four more liberal justices while not signing onto their opinion in the case.

“Chief Justice Roberts is at it again with his political gamesmanship,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, tweeted. “This time he has sided with abortion extremists who care more about providing abortion-on-demand than protecting women’s health.”

“Americans hoping for justice for women and unborn babies were let down again today by John Roberts,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said in a statement.

“What’s next, Chief Justice Roberts? Our Second Amendment rights?” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, tweeted.

Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley, a former clerk to Roberts, tweeted that the decision was a “disaster” and “a big-time wake up call to religious conservatives,” whom he urged to “make our voices heard.”

But Roberts’ move to stand apart from his more liberal colleagues, contextualizing his vote as one to protect the court’s past precedent, left other religious conservatives vowing to rededicate themselves to their fight to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“This case was about whether the state has the right to ensure that abortionists who take women’s money also provide for their safety,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, a prominent pro-Trump evangelical ally.

Russell Moore, president of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, defended Louisiana’s abortion law as “placing the most minimal restrictions possible on an abortion industry that insists on laissez-faire for itself and its profits.”

“Nonetheless, we will continue to seek an America where vulnerable persons, including unborn children and their mothers, are seen as precious, not disposable,” said Moore, who leads the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, said in a statement that Catholics would “grieve this decision” but would “continue to pray and fight for justice for mothers and children.”

O. Carter Snead, a professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, said in a statement that Roberts’ positioning in the decision was “cold comfort” on an otherwise “sad day.”

Support for rescinding Roe remains strong among evangelical Protestants. Sixty-one percent of them said they wanted to see the court fully overturn the decision, in a survey conducted last year by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. That survey found support for overturning Roe at 28 percent among Catholics and 42 percent among Protestants generally.

The court’s abortion ruling on Monday follows its 6-3 decision earlier this month that found that a central provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 shields LGBT people from employment discrimination. Religious conservatives also openly lamented that decision, while noting that potential faith-based exemptions could be carved out.

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