Louisiana legal requirement that abortion providers have hospital admitting privileges is unconstitutional, federal judge rules

A Baton Rouge federal judge Tuesday struck down part of a controversial 2014 Louisiana law requiring abortion clinic doctors to have admitting privileges to a hospital with obstetrical and gynecological services that is within 30 miles of the clinic where the abortion is performed.

U.S. District Judge John deGravelles, who presided over a June trial of a lawsuit challenging the admitting privilege requirement, said in a 112-page ruling the requirement in Act 620 violates the constitutional right of Louisiana women seeking abortions.

The state health department estimates roughly 10,000 women obtain abortions in Louisiana annually, deGravelles noted in his written decision.

The Center for Reproductive Rights called the judge’s ruling a victory for Louisiana women and said the state’s admitting privilege requirement would have shuttered all but one abortion provider in the state.

“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,” deGravelles wrote.

For many communities, rural ones in particular, the nearest hospital could be many miles away, meaning those clinics would have to close.

Clinic shutdowns would burden many Louisiana women by causing them to travel great distances for abortion services, or perhaps even take matters into their own hands, deGravelles said.

“These burdens include the risks from delays in treatment including the increased risk of self-performed, unlicensed and unsafe abortions,” he stated.

Louisiana’s newly elected attorney general, Jeff Landry, expressed disappointment with the judge’s ruling and pledged to appeal it “for the betterment of our state and its citizens.”

“My office and I will continue to do all we legally can to protect the unborn, their mothers and all Louisiana women,” Landry said.

Louisiana lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the law, which was backed by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Nancy Northup, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the center is confident courts across the nation will continue to strike down “these sham measures as clear violations of women’s health, rights and dignity.”

The nation’s highest court is set to hear arguments March 2 on a similar Texas law, signed in 2013, that permits doctors to perform abortions at clinics only if they have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The Texas law also requires abortion facilities to be constructed like surgical centers.

The Texas law has led to the closure of more than two dozen abortion clinics in that state.

The U.S. Supreme Court will focus on whether the Texas law imposes what the court has called an undue burden on a woman’s legal right to an abortion.

In addition to the admitting privilege requirement, the Louisiana law requires doctors who perform more than five abortions a year to maintain proper licensing, subject to safety and health inspections by the state.

In his ruling, deGravelles preliminarily blocked enforcement of the admitting privilege requirement and scheduled a Jan. 29 status conference to consider, among other matters, “what other proceedings must still take place and whether this Court should convert the preliminary injunction … to a permanent one.”

Anti-abortion forces argue the Louisiana law is needed to protect the health of women who get abortions, in cases of complications such as hemorrhaging or a perforated uterus.

Opponents of the law contend it is medically unnecessary and that any number of barriers — from maintaining a certain number of patients admitted to a particular hospital to religious considerations — can keep physicians from obtaining the privilege of admitting a patient to a particular hospital.

The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose the restriction.

Two of the six doctors who perform abortions in Louisiana today have admitting privileges to nearby hospitals.

Operators of abortion clinics in Metairie, Shreveport and Bossier City filed the lawsuit challenging the Louisiana law. Other clinics are in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Louisiana does not require doctors doing any other medical procedures to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, according to the suit and deGravelles’ ruling.

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