Lawsuit Challenges Louisiana Restrictions on Abortion

BATON ROUGE (CN) – A women’s advocacy group sued Louisiana on Tuesday, arguing that state abortion laws impose more than 1,000 medically-unnecessary requirement on clinics providing abortions and stymie the rights of those seeking them.

The lawsuit comes a year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down abortion restrictions in Louisiana and Texas, holding that they were an unconstitutional restriction on women’s rights.

But that high court victory did little to blunt the effect of other state requirements that continue to take a toll on clinics throughout Louisiana, the plaintiff Hope Medical Group for Women says.

“The dwindling number of abortion providers in the state makes access to abortion extremely difficult. In fact, Louisiana ranks among the lowest in the entire country in terms of access, with about 312,000 women per clinic, when evaluating the ratio of the remaining abortion clinics in the state to the population of women of reproductive age,” the lawsuit says.

The 56-page complaint was filed on behalf of Hope Medical Group for Women and three anonymous doctors, two of whom work at the clinic. The third doctor, a surgeon, would like to work at the clinic but cannot because he does not meet the state requirement he be licensed in family practice or obstetrics-gynecology.

This is an example of how abortion clinics are faced with requirements that are much more stringent than outpatient clinics and “other similarly low-risk healthcare,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit targets the excessive regulations on abortion clinics that were introduced in 2001.

No new outpatient abortion facility has received a license since 2008, the lawsuit says.

The effect of the regulations “has been to make it substantially more difficult to access abortion in Louisiana, without making it any safer,” the lawsuit says.

“Legal abortion is [already] extremely safe. It does not require a multitude of specifically targeted regulations – governing buildings, medical personnel, recordkeeping, testing, counseling, and everything in between – to make it safer,” the lawsuit says.

Laws of the type Louisiana abortion clinics are faced with are burdensome and superfluous, since abortion clinics already must uphold all the regular medical standards that face hospitals and medical offices.

The state requires abortion providers to perform a vaginal exam prior to abortion, even if the woman doesn’t need it and requires doctors to provide their patients with misleading or false information about abortions, “such as the bogus claim that abortion causes breast cancer,” Nancy Northrop, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights said in a during a Tuesday teleconference related to the lawsuit.

Louisiana once had 11 abortion clinics and currently has three, “so it’s easy to see the laws had the intended effects,” Kathaleen Pittman, administrator of the Hope Medical Group in Shreveport said during the teleconference.

The center filed the federal lawsuit on the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Texas law requiring abortion providers have hospital admitting privileges. If evidence shows the burden of regulations on abortion clinics outweigh the benefits, those provisions are unconstitutional, according to the 3-5 vote.

“Last year’s historic Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health put states on notice that abortion restrictions based on junk science and alternative facts are unconstitutional and cannot stand,” Northrop said.

The Texas ruling “made it very clear that sham restrictions on abortion have to be evaluated on a fact-based standard,” attorney David Brown said during the teleconference.

The filing came one year after the Center for Reproductive Rights sued Louisiana over each and every abortion restriction passed by the state in 2016, which included a measure that would triple the state’s mandatory delay from 24 to 72 hours for women seeking an abortion and a measure banning the most common method of second trimester abortion.

That litigation is ongoing.

The state faces a bill for more than $47 million in legal fees that are the result of a legal batter over another clinic shutdown law – an admitting privileges law – that was recently permanently blocked by District Judge John deGravelles in Baton Rouge. That case remains in court because the state appealed.

Defendants include Rebekah Gee, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and James Stewart Sr., District Attorney for Caddo Parish where the clinic is located.

The Louisiana Department of Health turned a request from the AP for comment on the 56-page lawsuit over to the Attorney General’s Office. The Office of Attorney General Jeff Landry, a conservative Republican, said it cannot comment on litigation, and told the AP also, “Our office is confident the laws are constitutional.”

The lawsuit was filed by Larry Samuel III of Rittenberg, Samuel & Phillips in New Orleans.

 

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