The U.S. Supreme Court bought itself more time Friday, delaying a decision on whether to let a stringent Louisiana abortion law take effect, which was to happen Monday..
Late Friday the court issued a brief order, forbidding a federal appeals court from issuing its final action in a legal dispute over the law. The appeals court said the law was constitutional.
Both the state of Louisiana and opponents of the law filed a series of court documents over the past several days, arguing about whether the Supreme Court should allow the law to take effect.
Samuel Alito, the justice handling appeals for that region, said that "because the filings regarding the application for a stay in this matter were not completed until earlier today and the justices need time to review these filings," the appeals court was ordered not to take the final action in the case.
The order is to be in effect through Thursday, February 7.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
"This order does not reflect any view regarding the merits" of the case, Alito said.
The Supreme Court sometimes issues such administrative stays to allow more time for consideration of an appeal.
The Louisiana law, passed by the state legislature in 2014, would require doctors offering abortion services to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down an identical Texas law, ruling that it imposed an obstacle for access to abortion without providing any medical benefits.
Two Louisiana doctors and a clinic challenged their state's law on that basis and urged the justices to block its enforcement while they pursue an appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Center for Reproductive rights said the law would leave only one doctor at a single clinic to perform the procedures, a drastic limitation that "cannot possibly meet the needs of approximately 10,000 women who seek abortion services in Louisiana each year."
If the law went into effect even for a short time, "clinics in Louisiana that are forced to close are unlikely to ever reopen. Most clinics lack the financial resources to survive a suspension of their operations," the group said in its court filings. By contrast, they said, the state would suffer no serious harm if the law is kept on hold, because it serves no safety or health benefit.
State officials urged the justices to let them begin enforcing the law. They said the challengers' claims of harm rested "on the premise that Louisiana will move aggressively to enforce the challenged law, potentially shutting down abortion clinics overnight. But that is not correct. Louisiana envisions a regulatory process that begins, logically, with collecting information from Louisiana's abortion clinics and their doctors."
In 2016, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals initially allowed the law to go into effect, but the Supreme Court put it on hold nine days later. After the court decided the Texas case, the challengers said the appeals court should strike down the Louisiana law because it was identical. But the appeals court ruled last September that it did not oppose the same kind of burden.
Pete Williams is an NBC News correspondent who covers the Justice Department and the Supreme Court, based in Washington.