Judge Kills Louisiana Restriction on Abortion

BATON ROUGE, La. (CN) — Finding a Louisiana law restricting abortion unconstitutional and discriminatory against poor women, a federal judge permanently enjoined its enforcement Wednesday, citing a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against a similar law in Texas.

Louisiana’s Act 620, signed into law by then-Governor Bobby Jindal in 2014, requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles.

U.S. District Judge John deGravelles, in a previous preliminary opinion, barred the state from enforcing the rule, but the Fifth Circuit reversed. Louisiana, however, agreed not to enforce the rule until further notice.

Last summer the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a Fifth Circuit ruling upholding the similar Texas law.

DeGravelles wrote in the 116-page ruling Wednesday that “the Supreme Court has now clarified” that “evidence considering the ‘real-world context of abortion patients’ poverty and transportation challenges, providers’ fear of anti-abortion violence, pre-existing regulations, and other obstacles to abortion access’ were not previously considered and should have been.”

“In short, Act 620 would do little or nothing for women’s health,” deGravelles wrote, “but rather would create impediments to abortion, with especially high barriers set before poor, rural, and disadvantaged women. These burdens would have the effect on increasing health risks among the state’s poorer women. The burdens imposed by Act 620 on abortion outweigh the benefits, particularly given this Court’s finding that the Act would do little, if anything, to promote women’s health.”

DeGravelles found that if the rule were enforced, Louisiana would be left with just one clinic capable of performing abortions. That would leave 70 percent of women in Louisiana who seek an abortion unable to do so.

“All women seeking an abortion in Louisiana would face greater obstacles than they do at present were Act 620 to be fully implemented, due to the dramatic reduction in the number of providers and the overall capacity for services, especially given the context in which this Act will operate. In addition, the clinic closures that will result from the Act’s enforcement will have additional, acute effects for several significant subgroups of women of reproductive age in Louisiana,” deGravelle wrote.

Attorney Elizabeth Murrill, with the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, told The Associated Press: “We are reviewing this opinion and will determine how to best proceed.”

Louisiana claims it is imperative that doctors have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals in case of medical emergencies.

Opponents said the law was meant to make obtaining an abortion virtually impossible in Louisiana.

The U.S. Supreme Court found that Texas was unable to prove that its law made abortions any safer, as it did not respond to any health problems, deGravelles wrote.

Abortion case record in Louisiana contains no evidence “that complications from abortion were being treated improperly, nor any evidence that any negative outcomes could have been avoided if the abortion provider had admitting privileges at a local hospital,” deGravelles wrote.

He found instead that the law “would increase the risk of harm to women’s health by dramatically reducing the availability of safe abortion in Louisiana.”

Louisiana had five abortion clinics when the law was passed in 2014. Two clinics have closed since then, one of them this month.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented some of the clinics, said the law would have closed two of the remaining three clinics.

The group said Wednesday that similar laws in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama, Ohio and Wisconsin have been permanently enjoined since the Supreme Court ruling in June 2016.

“Courts across the country continue to see through the façade of clinic shutdown laws like Louisiana’s, striking them down one after another,” said Nancy Northrop, the group’s president and CEO. “We call upon all elected officials to abandon their crusade against women’s health care and focus on policies which actually advance women’s health and rights.”

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