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Federal Judge Holds La. Admitting Privileges Measures Is Unconstitutional

January 27, 2016 — A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that an admitting privileges requirement for abortion providers in a Louisiana law (Act 620) is unconstitutional, AP/ABC News reports.

U.S. District Judge John deGravelles will meet with attorneys on Friday to weigh whether to make the preliminary injunction permanent. He has not issued a ruling on the law itself.

According to Nancy Northup -- president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the plaintiffs in the case -- the law would close four out of the five abortion care facilities in Louisiana (McConnaughey, AP/ABC News, 1/26).

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, 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.

In March 2015, former 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.

CRR attorney Ilene Jaroslaw argued that case law is not settled on such issues and that the claims should be considered during the trial. She added that 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."

In May 2015, deGravelles 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/13/15).

Details of Latest Ruling

DeGravelles' latest ruling extends his earlier order that prevents Louisiana from enforcing the admitting privileges rule, AP/ABC News reports (AP/ABC News, 1/26).

In the ruling Tuesday, deGravelles wrote, "The severely restricted access to abortion care by a large fraction of Louisiana women caused by Act 620, and the resulting unreasonable and dangerous delays in scheduling abortion procedures, constitute irreparable harm for Louisiana women seeking abortions" (Gyan, New Orleans Advocate, 1/26).

According to deGravelles, "Without an injunction, Louisiana women will suffer significantly reduced access to constitutionally protected abortion services, which will likely have serious health consequences" (Stein/Herskovitz, Reuters, 1/26). He noted that clinic closures under the law would force women to travel long distances to access abortion care and lengthen "delays in treatment," which in turn could increase the "risk of self-performed, unlicensed and unsafe abortions" (New Orleans Advocate, 1/26).

In addition, while the state claimed that the admitting privileges requirement does not stem from opposition to abortion rights, deGravelles wrote that correspondence between one of the anonymous plaintiffs in the lawsuit, an abortion provider, seeking admitting privileges and a physician at Tulane Medical Center showed "a very different reality." According to deGravelleves, the Tulane physician said of the provider's efforts to obtain admitting privileges, "This is just ridiculous. I can't believe the state has come to this."

Further, deGravelles said another abortion provider's effort to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital in the northern part of the state "reads like a chapter in Franz Kafka's 'The Trial.'" DeGravelles also noted that one hospital received written threats after it gave a different abortion provider admitting privileges.

Comments

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) said he intends to appeal the ruling.

Northup said, "Today's victory guarantees Louisiana women will continue to have access to critical health care services in the face of relentless political attacks on their health and rights" (AP/ABC News, 1/26).

CRR noted that similar laws in five other states have been blocked by courts. Northup said, "We are confident that courts across the country will continue to strike down these sham measures as clear violations of women's health, rights, and dignity" (Reuters, 1/26).