A federal judge on Sunday temporarily blocked enforcement of a Louisiana law that requires abortionists to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Three of the state’s five abortion facilities filed suit, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR).
The law requires all Louisiana abortionists to obtain admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of their respective facilities. Violators risk losing their licenses and a $4,000 fine. The restraining order allows abortionists to continue to practice while they seek admitting privileges. District Judge John deGravelles said he will hold a conference in 30 days to evaluate the progress toward obtaining admitting privileges and set a court date for his ruling on a preliminary injunction.
Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life (LARTL), said he respected the fairness of deGravelles’ decision. “Prompt implementation of HB 388 will allow Louisiana to raise the standard of care in Louisiana abortion facilities sooner rather than later,” he said. “While any delay of the law is a setback to that goal, we believe Judge deGravelles’ limited decision was a fair one.”
But the extent of the restraining order is up for debate. Kyle Duncan, representing state Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert, said the ruling only applies to the three plaintiffs in the suit. As of Sept. 1, CRR spokeswoman Jennifer R. Miller said the organization is still analyzing the decision.
Pro-life advocates have recently passed admitting privilege laws in five states: Wisconsin, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana. Each of the laws ended up in court. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to lift a temporary injunction against Wisconsin’s law. Both Mississippi’s and Alabama’s laws were struck down earlier this year. A federal appeals judge ruled in July that Mississippi’s law unconstitutionally restricted the right to abortion by forcing women out of state. In August, a district judge struck down Alabama’s admitting privileges law, which would have shut down three of the state’s five abortion facilities.
But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which also holds jurisdiction over Louisiana, upheld Texas’ admitting privileges law in March. There, even though women would have to drive farther to access facilities, the judges ruled the law didn’t place an “undue burden” on the right to an abortion. The court also ruled that abortionists with pending admitting privileges could continue to practice, setting a precedent for the suit against Louisiana’s law.
State defendants initially proposed that abortionists with pending privileges be allowed to practice, part of a failed effort to reach a compromise last week, LARTL said in a statement. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals agreed prior to Sunday’s decision that it would abide by the 5th Circuit’s ruling. But CCR sought a full temporary restraining order. When the two parties failed to reach an agreement, deGravelles issued his order. “Judge deGravelles, in a fair manner, simply applied the 5th Circuit’s logic in his decision,” Clapper said.
In the suit, CRR argued the law would effectively shut down all five facilities and failed to provide sufficient time for abortionists to obtain admitting privileges, Reuters reported. CRR also claims that rather than seeking to protect women, the law is a subversive means to block all abortion access in Louisiana. But in his ruling, deGravelles said CRR has yet to prove the breadth of the law’s effect.
“Because the applications of the doctors have not been acted upon at this time, the Court believes any undue burden that might occur if they were denied is speculative,” he wrote in his opinion. “While the doctors point to some preliminary indications that their applications may not be granted, the Court finds this evidence insufficient to carry their burden.”