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Federal Judge Dismisses Some Claims in Suit Challenging La. Admitting Privileges Law

May 13, 2015 — A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed portions of a lawsuit challenging a Louisiana admitting privileges law (Act 620), while allowing other parts of the case to proceed, AP/ABC News reports.

A trial for the parts of the lawsuit that were not dismissed is scheduled to take place from June 22 to June 29 (McConnaughey, AP/ABC News, 5/12).

Background

The law requires abortion providers in the state to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the facility where they practice.

Abortion clinics in Shreveport, Bossier City and Metairie filed suit against the law in August 2014. Delta Clinic of Baton Rouge and Women's Health Center in New Orleans filed a separate suit against the law the following month.

In August 2014, U.S. District Court Judge John deGravelles said the law could take effect as scheduled on Sept. 1, 2014, but he granted a temporary restraining order that blocks the state from enforcing the law. Meanwhile, in December 2014, the Baton Rouge and New Orleans clinics requested their suit be dismissed, citing cost concerns. DeGravelles had been considering the clinics' suit together with the other three clinics' suit, which remained intact.

On March 19, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) administration asked deGravelles to dismiss parts of the suit, arguing that the court should throw out the clinics' claims that the law constitutes a "medically unreasonable" requirement and that lawmakers intended for the law to reduce abortion access. Attorney Kyle Duncan, representing the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, argued that a federal appeals court had denied similar claims in cases regarding Mississippi and Texas laws.

Meanwhile, Ilene Jaroslaw, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the abortion clinics, argued that case law is not settled on such issues and that the claims should be considered during the trial. In addition, she said dismissing those claims would reduce the ability of the facilities to provide the court with medical evidence that could show that the admitting privileges measure restricts abortion access "with no obvious benefits to women's health" (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/23).

Judge Dismisses Some Claims

DeGravelles on Tuesday dismissed some claims, ruling that while the law could have a rational basis, it could put too great a burden on women trying to access abortion in the state.

Specifically, deGravelles said he was bound by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling to uphold a similar Texas law (HB 2), but he noted that the Texas ruling is "only one part of the test for constitutionality." He added that the 5th Circuit also overturned Mississippi's admitting privileges law (HB 1390) because it would have made it too difficult for women in the state to access abortion.

According to Duncan, deGravelles in the upcoming trial will consider whether the Louisiana Legislature intended to close abortion clinics in the state when it passed the law last year and how the law will affect abortion access in the state.

Reaction

Duncan said the state is "pleased that the judge's ruling recognizes that an admitting [privileges] requirement like Louisiana's is medically reasonable and we look forward to the trial."

Meanwhile, Jaroslaw also voiced support for the decision, saying, "What the judge was saying is: evidence matters, facts matter, and the state can't hide behind a technicality to obscure the fact that the point of this law is just to shut down abortion clinics."

She continued, "If the state says that their purpose is to help women and [the law] has a net effect of harming women -- which in fact it does -- it will shed a lot of light on the true purpose." According to Jaroslaw, four of the state's six abortion providers do not have the necessary privileges. Meanwhile, one of the physicians who does have the privileges only performs abortions part-time, while the other -- who performs abortions in both New Orleans and Baton Rouge -- has privileges only in New Orleans (AP/ABC News, 5/12).