WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided Supreme Court on Monday struck down 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 Trump era.
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 the abortion rights that the court set forth 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 President Donald Trump's appointees on board would start chipping away at abortion access.
The key vote belonged to Roberts, who had always voted against abortion rights before, including in a 2016 case in which the court struck down a Texas law that was virtually identical to the one in Louisiana.
But Roberts did not join the opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer for the other liberals in Monday's decision, and his position left abortion-rights supportersmore relieved than elated.
The chief justice explained that he continues to think the Texas case was wrongly decided but said he believes it's important for the court to stand by its prior decisions.
"The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law," Roberts wrote.
In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, "Today a majority of the Court perpetuates its ill-founded abortion jurisprudence by enjoining a perfectly legitimate state law and doing so without jurisdiction."
Trump's two appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, were in dissent, along with Justice Samuel Alito. The presence of the new justices is what fueled hopes among abortion opponents, and fears on the other side, that the Supreme Court would be more likely to uphold restrictions.
The ruling has no direct effect on Nebraska because the state has no similar law.
In 2015, then-State Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha introduced a bill that would have required any clinic doing five ormore abortions per month to meet the tougher licensing standards of an ambulatory surgical center. Those standards would have included a requirement for the clinics to have a transfer agreement with a local hospital. The bill did not get out of committee.
Karen Bowling, executive director of Nebraska Family Alliance, which joined in a friend-of-the court brief supporting the Louisiana law, decried the court ruling.
"Instead of protecting mothers and their babies, the Court's decision allows abortion clinics to skirt around common-sense health and safety regulations," she said in a statement.
Scout Richters, ACLU of Nebraska's legal and policy counsel, said the decision once again affirms that people have a right to abortion care without facing undue burdens to access that care.
"Like any deeply personal medical situation, decisions about abortion care belong to patients and their physicians — not politicians," Richters said.
Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life said, "Today's 5-4 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on a Louisiana law requiring abortion facilities to have hospital admitting privileges is an affront to unborn babies and their mothers."
Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned ParenthoodNorth Central States, said, "Today's victory is a huge win for safe, legal abortion, but our fight for access to sexual and reproductive health is far from over. ... We should take heart today but we must be under no illusion: Today's decision was about precedent and there is no guarantee that current majority on the Supreme Court would protect abortion access if a different restrictive law came before them."
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a global legal advocacy organization, said Monday's decision by no means ends the struggle over abortion rights in legislatures and the courts. She said the court's ruling could embolden states to pass more restrictive laws.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, said, "Today's ruling is a bitter disappointment. It demonstrates once again the failure of the Supreme Court to allow the American people to protect the well-being of women from the tentacles of a brutal and profit-seeking abortion industry."
A trial judge had said the law would not provide health benefits to women and would leave only one clinic open in Louisiana, in New Orleans. That would make it too hard for women to get an abortion, in violation of the Constitution, the judge ruled.
But the appeals court in New Orleans rejected the judge's findings and upheld the law in 2018, doubting that any clinics would have to close and saying the doctors had not tried hard enough to establish relationships with local hospitals.
The clinics filed an emergency appeal at the Supreme Court, asking that the law be blocked while the justices evaluated the case. Roberts joinedwith the four liberal members of the court to grant that request and keep the law on hold.
Roberts' vote was a bit of a surprise because he voted in the Texas case to uphold the clinic restrictions. It may have reflected his new role since Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement as the court's swing justice, his concern about the court being perceived as a partisan institution and respect for a prior decision of the court, even one he disagreed with.
The regulations at issue in Louisiana are distinct from other state laws making their way through court challenges that would ban abortions early in a pregnancy. Those include bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as 6 weeks, and the almost total ban passed in Alabama.
The case was the third in two weeks in which Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, joined the court's liberals in the majority. One of those decisions preserved the legal protections and work authorization for 650,000 immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. The other extended federal employment-discrimination protections to LGBT Americans.
World-Herald staff writer Martha Stoddard contributed to this report.
LINCOLN — Adrian Martinez was supposed to fly back to Nebraska out of Los Angeles International Airport. But the medical experts being used by Nebraska’s football program suggested an airport with less traffic. So Martinez flew out from a different spot.
This was late March, near the first peak of the coronavirus pandemic, and while Martinez was voluntarily choosing to return to Lincoln and NU’s campus, the Husker brass — led by coach Scott Frost and his chief of staff, Gerrod Lambrecht — had already planned, and begun to enact, a way for Martinez to come back safely without putting himself, or the community, in danger.
Martinez flew in and was directed to move quickly through the airport — no bathroom break, touching nothing — to a waiting car that had already been equipped with a divider. From there, he was driven to his home, where Martinez waited until April 3, when Nebraska first administered COVID-19 tests to a core group. Other athletes flying in from out of state were taken to a suite-style dorm on campus and given a room number with a key taped to the door.
Since then, NU has tested more than 250 student-athletes and staff several times. Eight have tested positive, two of whom are in other sports.
Of the six connected to the football program, three — two players and a coach — tested positive upon their arrival. Just three players, over nearly three months, tested positive based on community spread after their arrival.
None of the football players, Frost said, have had symptoms beyond a sore throat, a one-day fever spike or a two-day loss of taste and smell. One player who tested positive, Frost said, was asymptomatic.
Frost said Nebraska had never made a firm decision not to release case numbers, and the decision to announce them Monday was not related to a World-Herald story last week covering their lack of release. Other schools such as Clemson, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Iowa have been reporting positive tests, but roughly half of FBS schools, according to an Associated Press survey, have declined.
“We’ve been elbows deep in this situation for a long time,” Frost said in a scout room nestled on the second floor of Memorial Stadium. “As other schools decided to release that information, we’ve been talking for a month (about) doing an interview like this because we want Nebraskans to feel like we did this in a safe way.”
Nebraska’s positive test cases are nowhere near the spikes seen at Clemson (37 positives) or Kansas State, which suspended voluntary workouts for 14 days after 14 players tested positive. While other schools brought back many of their players in a short time frame, Nebraska stretched out its return in waves, starting with the core group in late March. The final wave — mostly walk-ons — won’t arrive until mid-July.
The prospects of Nebraska playing a 12-game football season this fall look extremely doubtful, says Tom Shatel. What would that mean for Scott Frost and the Huskers?
Frost credited Lambrecht, associate director of football operations Andrew Sims, nutrition guru Dave Ellis, strength coach Zach Duval, head trainer Mark Mayer, NU’s administrative leaders and two University of Nebraska Medical Center experts — Dr. Steven Hinrichs and Dr. Scott Koepsell — for their help in administering the plan.
Lambrecht typed up a document full of suggestions, pointers and potential pitfalls that was distributed to the rest of the Big Ten. Nebraska doesn’t know, to what extent, its plan has been followed by other schools.
Frost just knows the plan has been “efficient” for Nebraska. Lambrecht said it was “obvious” that most players would return to Nebraska at some point over the summer regardless of what they were told.
“So the idea that it was managed in a way that protected Nebraska and protected Lincoln was of paramount concern,” Lambrecht said, adding that the safety of the players was equally important.
NU’s staff talks to players repeatedly about their social behavior and the “best, safest, smartest way to conduct themselves,” Lambrecht said. When players returned to the state, they were placed in categories of driving and flying back into the state. If players drove into Nebraska from the north, east or south, Lambrecht said, they were generally asked to fill up their gas tanks before reaching the state line. Driving in from the west, Colorado for instance, was the occasional exception because of the distance.
In their quarantine suites, players had a balcony for fresh air, but they were asked not to leave their rooms. Sims would load up his car with supplies at least once a day — food from Ellis’ grab-and-go system, toiletries, disinfectant — and deliver them to the front doors of the suites for players to collect.
At the outset of the pandemic in March, tests from UNMC were in shorter supply and it took three or four days to receive results, which meant longer quarantines. The longest quarantine, Lambrecht said, was 27 days, involving a player who tested positive upon arrival. Nebraska coaches used FaceTime chats with players dealing with cabin fever.
This approach, spread over late spring and early summer, stands in contrast to most schools, including some in the Big Ten and Oklahoma, which will not bring back the bulk of its team until this week as coronavirus cases spike all over the South and West. Husker football players who live in states like Texas, Arizona, Georgia and Alabama — which combined for more than 10,000 positive tests on Monday — are by and large already back in Lincoln, which reported just 16 positive cases Monday.
Frost said he doesn’t want to critique other schools’ plans but said college football lacks a uniform approach to testing and managing the safety and well-being of players. Every conference, university president, athletic director and coach may have their own perspective, and the pendulum on whether a season can be played or not swings back and forth with regularity. There is not yet a protocol on how teams will test, and then isolate, players once the season begins, and because the U.S. is so vast, a “blanket approach,” Frost said, may not be best.
In order to alleviate budget issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, the Nebraska athletic department announced plans to cut expenses by 10% for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
And while testing is important, Frost said, he laid out a practical scenario in which it becomes clear that an attitude shift related to the virus may be more important than testing.
“If you try to peel back the onion of thinking that testing is going to keep everyone from getting this, you’re lying to yourself,” Frost said.
Based on UNMC expertise, Frost said, the incubation period for the virus is 72 hours before a person would test positive, and it takes 24 hours to get back test results. So if Nebraska tested its players on Wednesday of a game week, the school would know who might have contracted the virus the weekend prior.
“But if they got it on a Monday or Tuesday, it’s not going to come up positive,” Frost said. “They’re still going to class Thursday, they’re going to class Friday morning, and if you have an away game, they’re going to be around bus drivers, flight attendants, hotel people preparing food. To think that testing is going to keep our kids safe is probably a very flawed way of looking at it. We’ve gotten to the point — not our decision, but advice from experts — that the ones we need to be worried about in regards to the age group of people we’re working with, young, healthy kids, is that we need to focus on kids who are symptomatic.”
Sore throats. Fever spikes. Shortness of breath. Identify and isolate those players, Frost said. And Nebraska said it will be “very attentive” toward players with risk factors like sickle-cell trait or asthma.
“If we don’t get there, where we’re able to just play football and take care of kids who are symptomatic — pull them, isolate them, isolate people in direct contact with them and let everybody else go — I think football’s unlikely.”
The mindset surrounding the virus, Frost said, has to change. And there has to be consideration for whether athletes will contract COVID-19 regardless of whether they play football.
“I think that’s an important point,” Frost said. “Whether our kids are playing football games or not, or whether our kids are practicing football or not, they’re at just as high risk — or even a higher risk — of getting it without that structure. That’s another reason we allowed kids to come back — because of the structure and things to do.”
The clock ticks toward the season. Starting July 13, the NCAA will allow coach-supervised workouts. On July 24, the NCAA allows a mini-camp structure in which coaches can work with players 20 hours a week. By then, the sport will either have turned the corner toward a normal season or not.
Nebraska spends much of its time chewing on contingency plans. Frost quipped that “0%” of Big Ten coaches would be in favor of an all-league schedule, but the possibility has been floated. As far as NU knows, all three of its nonconference opponents — Central Michigan, South Dakota State and Cincinnati — plan on playing this season. The Huskers have contracts — which generally do not include out clauses for pandemics — that they want to honor.
Frost, and his staff, are all-in.
“We’re fighting the fight,” he said.
The Omaha Public Schools board pushed the first day of school up a week and will require that all students and staff wear masks.
The school board met Monday night and approved changing the 2020-21 school calendar. School will now start on Aug. 11. Winter break also has been extended by one week.
The school board voted 9-0 to approve a resolution requiring anyone engaging in any activity on district property to wear a mask when other people are present. Bandanas are prohibited.
Exceptions would be made when people are eating, drinking, with members of their household in a separate space or participating in athletic activities with proper social and physical distancing.
The board had already approved the purchase of more than 360,000 cloth masks for students and staff.
The bulk of the discussion Monday night centered on the district’s plan to return to school this fall.
Half of OPS students districtwide would attend school Monday and Tuesday, the other half Thursday and Friday. They would rotate attending Wednesday.
Last week, OPS unveiled a fall reopening plan that would divide students into two groups who would each attend school in person part of the week.
Students would be divided into two groups based on the first letter of their last names.
Students whose names start with A through K would attend every Monday and Tuesday. Those starting with L through Z would attend every Thursday and Friday. Wednesdays would alternate between the groups.
The plan would be for all grades across the district. The school board is not scheduled to vote on the plan, which was instead determined by district leadership.
Nearly two dozen parents, teachers and students spoke during the public comment portion of Monday night’s meeting.
Some parents complained that the survey sent out by the district did not mention the two-group plan as an option. Others wondered how working parents will juggle child care and remote learning for part of the week.
As Omaha Public Schools officials finalize plans to re-open in August, a survey shows its parents and students are split on whether to require masks.
Mark Meisenbach, an OPS parent, said he doesn’t understand why other districts in the state and bordering schools in the metro area can fully reopen schools but OPS cannot.
Superintendent Cheryl Logan said OPS has had crowded classrooms for many years, especially in South Omaha, and to reopen schools in those crowded conditions would put too many people at risk.
“None of us want to be in this position right now,” Logan said. “We all want to have our students back 100% of the time.”
If conditions improve, Logan said she would be the first person championing getting students back in school five days a week.
Students in several special education programs will go to school every day, including all classrooms at JP Lord School.
Kate Wiig, an OPS teacher and parent, told the board that she’s incredibly scared but excited to see her students. She said the plan is the best possible option to help kids.
The board meeting Monday night was the first time parents, teachers and school board members could publicly ask district officials about the plan.
Robert Miller, president of the Omaha Education Association, said the return-to-school plan was shared with OPS staff at 4 p.m. Friday. Teachers have many questions about what the return will look like, but Miller said he can’t answer them because teachers were not part of the planning or discussions.
“OPS has a dedicated staff who are willing to do what is needed,” Miller said. “They want to see their students in person and they understand the need for normalcy, but at what cost? It very well could be at the cost of staff and students’ health.”
The Douglas County Republican Party said Monday that it opposes the district’s plan, saying it “puts a lot of stress on working parents and disproportionately hurts kids from underprivileged families.”
Other metro area school districts this week began revealing their plans or the dates when more details would be released.
The Westside Community Schools announced Monday that the district will open up for all students in August with safety and social distancing measures in place.
The current plan is to have all Westside students attend school every day. The district has a backup plan that would divide the students into two groups and have them attend school on different days of the week.
With her husband working from home during the coronavirus pandemic and three kids roaming from room to room, Kayla Perez had an idea.
An above-ground swimming pool would give their children, ages 11 to 18, another diversion this summer and create a place where other kids and neighbors could enjoy themselves.
There was one problem. Outdoor play and recreation equipment like pools, trampolines, hot tubs, in-ground basketball setups and bicycles are hard to come by. Not only is demand high, but some manufacturers also either shut down or worked with smaller-than-normal staffs as the pandemic rolled through the nation in the spring.
Above-ground pool suppliers and manufacturers haven’t been able to keep up with orders.
“We actually did end up getting one,” Perez, of the Elkhorn area, said last week. “Before that (it) was very, very, very frustrating.”
Joni Butler, owner of Olympic Pool & Spa in Omaha, said the spa, or hot tub business, has boiled over this year. “Most spa stores here in town have sold everything they can sell,” Butler said.
Her business also builds more expensive in-ground pools. She estimates that the number of requests for those pools has increased five times over a typical season. “There’s no way we’re going to meet the demand this year,” she said.
The NPD Group, a New York-based market trends organization, said sales of playground equipment rose 81% and pools 161% when comparing numbers through April to the same period last year.
Michelle Pruitt, owner of Above & Beyond in North Kansas City, Missouri, said she had the same dozen blow-up wading pools for a couple years, but this spring they sold out within 48 hours. “If it’s water, people want it.”
And it’s not just water. Having the family cooped up in the spring compelled parents to seek various outlets for backyard fun and exercise. Children couldn’t go to school in the spring because of the contagious virus. Some of Omaha’s public outdoor swimming pools aren’t expected to open this summer.
Many summer camps won’t be held. Softball and baseball have cranked up in the Omaha area, but only to an extent.
Families have discovered that they must hustle for trampoline sets, too.
“Trampolines hit a hot spot,” said Jon Simons, owner of Backyard Playworld in Gretna, because they appeal to teens as well as small children. Supplies of in-ground basketball setups also have been stretched, he said.
The desire for trampolines “went from zero to 60 overnight,” he said. And if he had realized what the demand for trampolines would be this year and commanded a trampoline factory, he would be able to retire to a beach next year, he said.
“Y’know, it’s been unprecedented times,” he said. “It’s a situation that nobody’s ever been through.”
Pruitt said her waiting list for above-ground pools would carry her into next summer. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.
Everybody seems to have the same idea, she said. “A swimming pool is a wonderful diversion from COVID.”
Butler said turnaround time in ordering and acquiring hot tubs normally is three weeks. Now it’s two months. “Well, 2½, actually,” she said.
Machele Dunning of Bennington ordered an above-ground pool from an Omaha store a few weeks ago. Dunning said it was her understanding that it would take three weeks to come in.
She and her husband looked forward to providing a cool spot for their two kids at home as well as their adult children’s kids.
But then the shop estimated that it would be 10 to 12 weeks, she said. They canceled that order and placed themselves on the list of a store in Kansas City.
Arkansas above-ground pool manufacturer Doughboy Recreational suggests online that everyone should allow 12 weeks or more for shipping. “Experts are predicting a two- or three-year extraordinary demand for all outdoor recreational products,” Doughboy says.
Large stores haven’t been able to keep a variety of bicycles in stock. The same has been true of smaller, locally owned bicycle shops. “It’s way beyond what I’ve ever experienced,” said Jim Carveth, owner of the Bike Rack in Omaha and Lincoln.
Kayla Perez already had an array of diversions in the backyard for her children, including a skateboard ramp and a trampoline. The arrival of the above-ground pool has been a plus. She said everyone on her block is happy.
World-Herald staff writer Kelsey Stewart contributed to this report.