Louisiana Health Care Providers in Court to Protect Access to Safe, Legal Abortion Care

Thousands of women to lose abortion access if law allowed to take effect on September 1

The Center for Reproductive Rights joined the law firm of Morrison & Foerster in a new federal lawsuit today challenging a Louisiana state law signed by Governor Bobby Jindal in June specifically designed to shutter abortion clinics across the state.

The suit—which was filed on behalf of Louisiana health care providers in federal district court in Baton Rouge—seeks an immediate injunction against House Bill 388, a measure signed into law in June 2014 that forces any doctor who provides abortion care to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital.  Specifically, the suit seeks to enjoin the law before it is allowed to go into effect, as the physicians providing abortion services have not been given enough time to secure admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Admitting privileges requirements have devastated access to abortion services throughout the South.  Scores of clinics have closed in Texas, and clinics in Mississippi and Alabama are hanging on by the thread of a court order.  Admitting privileges are not necessary for the treatment of the fewer than 1% of abortion patients who experience complications and they can also be impossible to satisfy because of hospitals’ inclination to deny admitting privileges to abortion providers for reasons not related to the doctors’ qualifications.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Louisiana is the latest state to advance the unconstitutional objective of denying women safe, legal abortion care under the phony pretext of protecting their health. We intend to demonstrate why this law must be the latest to be blocked by a federal court order.

“Leading national medical associations oppose admitting privileges requirements and federal courts nationwide have blocked them, recognizing them as the underhanded attempts to ban abortion that they really are.

“We are confident this court will see through the disingenuousness of the politicians who passed this law to the unconstitutional attack on women’s rights and health care that lies beneath, and block its enforcement before it denies safe, legal abortion care to a single woman in Louisiana who needs it.”

Ilene Jaroslaw of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Demme Doufekias of Morrison & Foerster, and William E Rittenberg of Rittenberg, Samuel, and Phillips, LLC represent Hope Medical Group for Women, Causeway Medical Clinic, and Bossier City Medical Suite in today’s challenge.  If the law is permitted to go into effect, at least three out of the state’s five clinics will be forced to stop providing abortion services or close altogether, leaving thousands of women—especially those in the central part of the state—hundreds of miles from a safe and legal abortion provider.

With this law, Louisiana joined the ranks of other states that have attempted to use admitting privileges requirements as an underhanded way to shutter high-quality clinics and severely limit women’s access to abortion services.  Women’s health care providers and advocates are currently involved in twochallenges to Texas’ unconstitutional admitting privileges requirement which has already closed health centers across the state while the last clinic in Mississippi is fighting to keep its doors open.  A similar law in Alabama was found unconstitutional earlier this month and Wisconsin’s admitting privileges requirement has been preliminarily blocked; nevertheless, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed a similar measure into law earlier this summer.

Major medical groups oppose laws like Louisiana’s that require hospital admitting privileges for physicians providing abortion services.  In an amicus brief filed in the challenge to Texas’ admitting privileges requirement, the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) write that the law “jeopardizes women’s health in Texas,” doing “nothing to protect the health of women.”  Medical experts confirm that legal abortion care in the U.S. is extremely safe, with fewer than 1% of patients requiring treatment at a hospital.

Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 1696/H.R. 3471)—a bill that would prohibit states like Louisiana from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.