Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s latest attempt to close abortion clinics in the state. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has targeted abortion clinics for closure, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as justification. The Center is asking a federal court to immediately block the state’s attempts to shutter Hope Medical Group for Women and other abortion clinics.
“This is a shameful abuse of power,” said Nancy Northup, President & CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Louisiana has been trying for decades to end abortion. We are already fighting a separate Louisiana law at the Supreme Court that would shut down nearly every clinic in the state. If the state’s latest actions are not blocked, that will become a reality before the Supreme Court even rules."
“Hope Medical Group for Women is in full compliance of the Notice, but the Attorney General’s recent actions have thrown our patients into a state of fear and panic. There are women in Louisiana who need an abortion today—they cannot wait. But our hands are now being tied by the state,” said Kathaleen Pittman, clinic administrator for Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, Louisiana. “If women can’t access abortion here in Louisiana, they will no doubt attempt to access care in other states, which will only hurt efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Most of our patients are already mothers, so they are dealing with all this on top of caring for kids while schools are closed, and many are struggling financially.”
Louisiana is one of several states that have attempted to restrict abortion access during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the ACLU, and other allies have filed challenges in multiple states. Temporary restraining orders allowing abortion care have been secured in Alabama, Ohio, and Oklahoma. Just last night, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals amended its previous ruling to allow medication abortion care to continue in Texas while they consider the rest of the state’s appeal.
Leading medical organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association (AMA) have opposed these attempts to restrict abortion during the pandemic. Both groups filed an amicus brief in the case challenging Texas’s COVID-19 abortion ban, stating that interpreting Health Department Notices like Louisiana has “is likely to increase, rather than decrease, burdens on hospitals and use of PPE. At the same time, it will severely impair essential health care for women, and it will place doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals in an untenable position by criminalizing necessary medical care.”
The Center’s lawsuit argues that although Hope has been in full compliance with the Health Department’s Notice, Louisiana’s recent actions and application of the Notice, would deny Louisianans’ access to essential, time-sensitive healthcare and violate their constitutional right to choose abortion prior to viability and nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent protecting a woman’s right to bodily integrity and autonomy under the Fourteenth Amendment. The lawsuit also argues that—contrary to the state’s claims—forcing women to carry a pregnancy to birth or travel out of state for abortion care in the middle of this current crisis is not only cruel and unconstitutional but will also undermine public health, by increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19 and expending more medical resources.
The Center is currently litigating three other cases in Louisiana, including June Medical Services v. Russo—a case awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court that could leave just one abortion provider in the state. The Center also filed a lawsuit challenging seven abortion restrictions passed in 2016; and a lawsuit challenging the state’s targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws.
Louisiana has more abortion restrictions than any other state, and more than 92% of Louisiana parishes have no abortion clinic. Since 2001, the number of abortion clinics in Louisiana has fallen from 11 to three as the state has imposed a slew of onerous requirements for abortion providers. There are nearly one million women of reproductive age in the state.
This case was filed by Center for Reproductive Rights attorneys Jenny Ma, Caroline Sacerdote, and Arielle Humphries on behalf of Hope Medical Group for Women. The full complaint is available here.
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