Louisiana Defends Proposed Abortion Restrictions in Federal Court

BATON ROUGE (CN) – Louisiana is allowed to express a profound respect for life, an attorney representing the state argued before a federal judge Friday in a lawsuit brought on behalf of a Shreveport abortion clinic and its doctors.

The lawsuit, filed by lawyers for Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport last July, sought to block seven measures enacted by the state legislature in 2016, including a stipulation fetal tissue from aborted fetuses cannot be donated.

Another measure would impose a waiting period that would triple the time a woman must wait between appointments before she can have an abortion – from 24 to 72 hours.

Lawmakers said the purpose of lengthening the waiting period is to be sure women are making informed decisions.

Friday’s oral arguments addressed six of the seven measures. Lawyers said they are not asking the judge just yet to rule on the merits of the claims of the lawsuit.

Zoe Levine, a lawyer from the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the state’s measures “establish the state’s claim that fetuses are human beings.”

Solicitor General Elizabeth Murrill, representing Attorney General Jeff Landry, responded by defending what she called Louisiana’s right to express “profound respect for life.” She indicated the measure that would bar the donation of fetal tissue is meant to curb trafficking.

State officials had agreed last year not to enforce the new restrictions until Jackson has decided on the merits of the measures.

Supporters of the laws say the restrictions are meant to improve women’s health. Opponents argue the laws would impose undue burdens on abortion clinics and are designed to shame the women they serve.

U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson, of the Middle District of Louisiana, didn’t rule immediately on the lawsuit but said he would rule as soon as he can.

Jackson played devil’s advocate to attorneys representing both sides of the issue throughout the hearing, frequently making observations about the arguments.

“Abnormalities are extremely rare,” he said, pointing to a measure that would require abortion providers to give women information on birth defects and abnormalities, “So why would women have to receive information on abnormalities? And wouldn’t that – conceivably – have a chilling affect?”

Of the measure related to fetal tissue donation, Jackson pressed Levine about how much tissue is really donated.

It is not an issue of donation, Levine said. Rather, it is a matter of shaming the women receiving the abortions.

Another measure would penalize anyone who contracts with an abortion clinic. Levin said the measure is so broad it could conceivably be interpreted to mean even providers of utilities such as water and electricity, or even keep an office supply company from providing something as basic as paper.

“We don’t interpret the law to apply to basic services,” Murrill said.

“That’s not what the statute says,” Judge Jackson replied.

Other provisions challenged by the lawsuit include a requirement that doctors performing abortions be board certified and a requirement that fetal tissue from aborted fetuses be either buried or cremated.

A clinic in Bossier City was also a plaintiff in the lawsuit but closed in late April, leaving just the three remaining clinics – the plaintiff in Shreveport, a clinic in New Orleans and one in Baton Rouge.

Named defendants in the lawsuit include Rebekah Gee, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health.

 

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