BATON ROUGE. La. (CN) - Striking down a state mandate that would threaten abortions, a judge this week ruled that doctors who perform abortions are not required to have admitting privileges to hospitals.
The ruling said the mandate might have prevented 99 percent of Louisiana women from receiving abortions in the state.
U.S. District Judge John deGravelles in Baton Rouge, in issuing the 112-page decision Tuesday, decided to keep his original ruling in place that blocked the state from enforcing the mandate, Act 620, which would require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges in hospitals within 30 miles of the clinics where they perform abortions.
DeGravelles has yet to rule on the state's abortion law itself. He heard arguments about the law last June when he first considered the injunction in connection with a lawsuit still pending in court.
Supporters of Act 620 say admitting privileges are meant to protect women's health. Opponents say the rule is just a road block put in place to keep women from seeking abortions.
DeGravelles' ruling said the enforcement of Act 620 "and the concomitant effect on restricted access to abortion doctors and clinics would result in delays in care, causing a higher risk of complications, as well as a likely increase in self-performed, unlicensed and unsafe abortions."
Before Act 620 passed, doctors performing abortions in Louisiana were not required to have admitting privileges at any hospital, and they tended not to have them because they so rarely needed to accompany a patient to the hospital, deGravelles' ruling said.
At the time Act 620 passed, only one of the six doctors performing abortions in the state had admitting privileges at a hospital and the privileges were solely for his unrelated OB/GYN practice.
Since the passage of Act 620, all five remaining doctors have attempted "in good faith" to comply with Act 620. All have attempted to get admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic at which they perform abortions, but they have "had very limited success for reasons related to Act 620 and not related to their competence," the judge found. (290)
The five doctors have filed 13 separate formal applications at nearby hospitals. Of those, just one was granted. In another case, Doe 2 at Tulane was given admitting privileges that "do not comport with the plain language of Act 620," deGravelles found.
Abortion providers filed the lawsuit anonymously, as "John Does" and testified anonymously to protect their identities.
Last year, anti-abortion activists from outside Louisiana left fliers on neighbors' mailboxes calling Doe 3 an abortionist and saying they wanted him to convert to Jesus, Judge deGravelles' ruling said.
The activists approached Doe 3's regular medical patients as they tried to enter his office and told them he killed babies and they should not see him.
Doe 3 the only abortion provider who had admitting privileges at the time Act 620 passed fears that if other Louisiana abortion providers are unable to obtain admitting privileges, he will become "an even greater target for anti-abortion violence," according to court documents.
"He specifically testified that 'all these individuals have to do is eliminate him as they have Dr. Tiller and some of the other abortion providers around the country' to eliminate abortion entirely in Northern Louisiana," deGravelles said.
Dr. Doe 3 testified that if he is the last provider of abortions in the state he will stop providing abortions because of his fears of being eliminated.
"If Act 620 were to be enforced, four of the six doctors ... would not meet the requirements of Act 620. If Doe 3 quits the abortion practice, as he has testified he will, Louisiana would be left with one provider and one clinic. As analyzed in more detail below, this would result in a substantial number of Louisiana women being denied access to an abortion in the state. ... which would result in long travel distances, extreme burden placed on the remaining hospital that performs abortions, and "70 percent of the women in Louisiana seeking an abortion would be unable to get an abortion in Louisiana," deGravelles' ruling said.
Judge deGravelles' ruling continued: Given that the total number of women of reproductive age in Louisiana is 938,719 according to defendants' expert, "this would mean that over 99 percent of women of reproductive age in Louisiana, regardless of location or distance to the physician, would be without any physician within the actual borders of this state to perform an abortion."
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents three clinics and their doctors, was pleased with Tuesday's ruling.
"Today's victory guarantees Louisiana women will continue to have access to critical health care services in the face of relentless political attacks on their health and rights," center President and CEO Nancy Northup said in a news release.
Recently elected Attorney General Jeff Landry said he plans to push for enforcement of the state's abortion law and will appeal Tuesday's decision.
"As Attorney General, I am committed to enforcing our state's pro-life and pro-woman laws," he said in a news release. "My office and I will continue to do all we legally can to protect the unborn, their mothers, and all Louisiana women."
Although plaintiffs say admitting privileges are meant to help women and have nothing to do with what deGravelles called "the political, religious and social hostility against abortion," deGravelles pointed to the email exchanges between Doe 2 and Dr. A at Tulane as demonstrating "a very different reality, even in a metropolitan, university-based hospital."
in the email exchange, Dr. A "first feels the need to discuss Doe 2's request for privileges 'with our lobbyists,'" deGravelles noted.
Doe 1's attempts to get admitting privileges at a north Louisiana hospital "reads like a chapter in Franz Kafka's The Trial," the judge wrote.
And a hospital identified only as "Hospital C" received threatening letters after granting admitting privileges to Doe 5, deGravelles said.
DeGravelles said he is meeting Friday with attorneys to consider matters, including whether he will change his preliminary injunction to a permanent one.
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