Louisiana drops regulation blocking new abortion facility in New Orleans

The Louisiana health department has cleared the way for Planned Parenthood to apply for a license for its New Orleans clinic to provide abortion services.

In a letter dated Friday, the Department of Health and Hospitals rescinded an earlier requirement that an outpatient abortion facility, such as the one being built by Planned Parenthood on South Claiborne Avenue, provide a “facility need review” demonstrating that its services are needed to preserve women’s ability to obtain an abortion before it can apply for a license to perform abortions in the state.

Such a review had been required under department regulations enacted in 2012.

DHH did not explain why the regulation was being rescinded.

With the review no longer necessary, the department said Planned Parenthood can move forward with the licensing application process such as submitting a $600 licensing fee, a detailed floor plan of the facility and occupancy approval from both the Office of Public Health and the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

“Planned Parenthood is now one step closer to providing safe, legal abortion in Louisiana,” Jewel Bush, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Center for Choice, said in a statement.

Raegan Carter, senior director of external services for the group, said the new health center will offer a full range of reproductive health care.

“When this health center opens, Planned Parenthood will more than double the number of women and men we serve in Louisiana,” she said.

Louisiana has five abortion clinics around the state.

Planned Parenthood’s $4 million, 7,000-square-foot health center would be the third clinic offering abortions in the New Orleans area. Lawmakers tried to slow down construction with regulatory hurdles but were unsuccessful.

The health center will double the size of the organization’s current facility in New Orleans, which offers a wide array of primary care services — including screening for cervical cancer, breast cancer and sexually transmitted diseases — but not abortions.

If it receives the necessary approvals from the state, the new clinic would be the first Planned Parenthood facility in Louisiana to offer abortions.

The construction site has been the scene of several protests by abortion opponents, and Archbishop Gregory Aymond has warned that companies involved in building the facility could be barred from getting contracts with the archdiocese to work on churches or schools.

Planned Parenthood said it submitted a comprehensive “facility need review” application in October, including what it said was extensive research from experts in the field attesting to the unmet need for safe and legal abortion in the region. In January, DHH denied Planned Parenthood’s application.

After Planned Parenthood challenged that decision in February, the department agreed to withdraw its initial denial notice and review additional information.

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