Appeals Court Upholds La. Abortion Malpractice Law
September 18, 2013 — A federal appeals court has reversed some parts of a lower court ruling that struck down a 1997 Louisiana law (R.S. 9:2800.12) that allowed lawsuits against abortion providers to proceed without a prior review process, the Louisiana Record reports (Phillips, Louisiana Record, 9/16).
Last year, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan struck down the law, saying it was unconstitutionally vague and would impose an undue burden on women seeking abortion care by forcing responsible abortion providers out of business.
Under Louisiana malpractice laws, lawsuits cannot go to trial until they are reviewed by a state medical malpractice board to determine if the doctor was negligent or provided poor care. The state limits monetary awards in such suits to $500,000.
The 1997 law amended the state's liability law -- which does not cap monetary awards -- to allow suits alleging damages from an abortion to go directly to trial.
The Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the law in 2007 on behalf of two doctors and five clinics after a medical malpractice review board refused to hear a negligence suit against an abortion provider. While CRR's case was pending, the state's Patient Compensation Fund reviewed the allegations against the provider and found no negligence had occurred (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/30/2012).
The defendants -- Louisiana Patient's Compensation Fund Oversight Board -- appealed the decision, arguing that the plaintiffs had no standing in their claims.
Appeals Court's Ruling
In its decision, the appeals court agreed with the defendants that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge a subsection of the law that they claimed is unconstitutionally vague. The court said the defendants are not responsible for enforcing their actions and that "relief directed to the Board Parties will not redress the Providers' injury."
However, the court ruled that the proceedings are not moot and that the plaintiffs have merit to challenge the law (Louisiana Record, 9/16).