NEW ORLEANS (CN) – Five outpatient abortion providers and a doctor say Louisiana’s new “zero tolerance policy” allows state officials to suspend or revoke their licenses “based on any violation of any state or federal law or regulation” without warning, in violation of their due process rights. They say the policy was enacted “to close down outpatient abortion facilities regardless of whether those facilities are operating safely.”
The providers and a John Doe doctor sued Bruce D. Greenstein, secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals, in Federal Court, challenging his authority to suspend their licenses without notification.
They say the authority comes in a newly enacted amendment, Louisiana Act 490, that “makes it likely that the Department will suspend or revoke many or all of the Abortion Facility Plaintiff’s (sic) licenses in the foreseeable future.”
They say the new “zero tolerance policy” was adopted to “close down outpatient abortion facilities regardless of whether those facilities are operating safely.”
Under Louisiana Act 490, Greenstein no longer has to give outpatient abortion providers “notice of alleged violations and an opportunity to correct them before taking action to suspend or revoke a license,” the lawsuit states.
Outpatient abortion services were governed by the same Louisiana laws that apply to hospitals, until the state enacted Act 490 on June 22, the plaintiffs claim.
Louisiana has seven outpatient abortion facilities, five of which are challenging the new amendment.
“The other two are currently subject to license revocation proceedings initiated by the Department,” according to the lawsuit.
The abortion providers say they fear being shut down after inspections, partly because the state is vague about what constitutes a violation and “applies statutes and regulations inconsistently.”
The “potentially applicable state laws or regulations are practically innumerable,” the plaintiffs claim. “On the face of the statute, a violation of any one of those laws or regulations provides grounds for the Department to revoke permanently the license of an outpatient abortion facility in Louisiana.”
Under the zero tolerance policy, the lawsuit states, “an outpatient abortion facility could be shut down and kept shut down during the pendency of the appeal for any violation that the Secretary deems to pose an imminent or immediate threat even if the threat has been removed.”
“Furthermore, in the case of an immediate suspension, the statute, as amended, is designed to insulate the Department from review of its decision,” the providers claim. This is partly because the state “no longer permits outpatient facilities ‘to show compliance with all lawful requirements for the retention of the license,” according to the complaint.
“Thus, if the outpatient abortion facility files an administrative appeal, it will still be deprived of its license, cannot operate, and cannot generate revenue to avoid bankruptcy during the pendency of the appeal,” the providers claim.
And if a license is revoked for any reason, the providers say, anyone associated with the facility can be permanently blocked from performing outpatient abortions.
These new restrictions are “unconstitutionally vague and deny the plaintiff medical facilities equal protection of the laws and substantive due process,” the lawsuit states. They also allegedly violate patients’ fundamental right to get an abortion.
The plaintiff abortion providers are Bossier City Medical Suite, Choice Inc. of Texas dba Causeway Medical Clinic, Delta Clinic of Baton Rouge, Midtown Medical and Women’s Health Care Center.
They are represented by William Rittenberg of New Orleans.