Abortion Clinics Avert New Limits in Louisiana

     BATON ROUGE, La. (CN) - A federal judge blocked a new Louisiana law that would interfere with the operation of abortion clinics lacking nearby hospital admitting privileges.
     Three abortion clinics sued Louisiana Attorney General James Caldwell and two other state officials Aug. 22, challenging Act 620, a state law that will require abortion clinic doctors to have "active admitting privileges" at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic.
     With the law set to take effect Monday, U.S. District Judge John deGravelles issued the clinics a temporary restraining order Sunday night.
     The clinics are challenging the law as unconstitutional because the application process for admitting privileges can take months and they would not have privileges by Sept. 1.
     Enforcement of the law would likely cause all Louisiana abortion clinics to close, they claimed.
     The restraining order deGravelles issued Sunday allows abortion doctors to keep offering their services while they seek a preliminary injunction.
     "The act will be allowed to take effect but plaintiffs will not be subject to the penalties and sanctions allowed in the statute at this time or in the future for practicing without the relevant admitting privileges during the applications process," he wrote. "Plaintiffs will be allowed to operate lawfully while continuing their efforts to obtain privileges."
     Noting that there are two other abortion clinics in the state that did not participate in the lawsuit, deGravelles found it unclear how it would affect the right for Louisiana women to have an abortion if he declined to grant the restraining order>
     "How many patients do these other two facilities treat?" the 19-page opinion states. "How many doctors practice there? How many of these doctors have applied for admitting privileges and what is the status of their applications? If these other two facilities remain open (or don't), what would be the overall effect in terms of the time and distance patients would need to travel to receive their care?" (Parentheses in original.)
     "This, and other information not currently before the court, would be relevant in measuring the impact on the constitutional right," deGravelles added. "Based on the record before it at this time, the court finds that plaintiffs have not shown a substantial likelihood of success on this ground."
     The parties have until Sept 23 to address the restraining order with a brief memo to the court. A telephone status conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 30.
     Defendants Caldwell and Louisiana State Health Officer and Medical Director Dr. Jimmy Guidry were dismissed from the case.