The case could prove to be a test of President Donald Trump's two nominees to the high court, who reproductive rights activists worry could hamstring abortion access.
In 2016, the top court ruled 5-3 that a similar law enacted in Texas was unconstitutional. But that case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, was decided before Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh were confirmed to the bench.
The majority included former Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired in July. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, as well as Chief Justice John Roberts, dissented.
Five justices are required to grant an emergency stay, if the full court acts on the matter, so at least one of the court's five conservatives will have to join the liberal wing in order to prevent the Louisiana law from going into force.
The application follows a September decision from a divided panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that found that Whole Women's Health does not preclude the Louisiana law because "unlike in Texas, the [Louisiana law] does not impose a substantial burden on a large fraction of women."
In Texas, the panel said, almost all hospitals require a doctor to admit a minimum number of patients annually in order to retain admitting privileges. In contrast, in Louisiana, only a few hospitals have the same requirement. Judge Jerry Smith, who wrote the panel's majority opinion, also reasoned that driving distances will not increase for women seeking abortions and that "at most, only 30 percent of women" seeking abortions will be affected.
"We are of course bound by WWH's holdings, announced in a case with a substantially similar statute but greatly dissimilar facts and geography," Smith wrote in the 2-1 ruling.
In a dissent, Judge Patrick Higginbotham criticized the majority for drawing "conclusions for which there is no support in the record" and for rejecting "the district court's well-supported findings." The district court had found that as many as 70 percent of women seeking abortions could be unable to obtain one under the new law.
Higginbotham also challenged the majority's motives, suggesting there could be an ulterior justification.
"In the absence of fit between the means (requiring admitting privileges) and the ends (ensuring women's health), I am left to conclude that, viewed objectively, there is an invidious purpose at play," Higginbotham wrote, suggesting a possible political intention.
In a statement, Center for Reproductive Rights CEO Nancy Northup said the law "could be the last straw for the few remaining clinics."