(REVISED 3.14.2019) Louisiana passed a law in 2014 requiring every doctor who provides abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of where the abortion is performed.
In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down a nearly identical law the Center challenged in Texas. Admitting privileges requirements like these are contrary to modern medical standards, and the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have opposed them. These laws have no medical justification and simply deprive women of access to abortion. The complication rates for abortion are extremely low and hospital admission is almost never required. Clinics have procedures in place to ensure patient safety in the rare event of an emergency. Because hospitals sometimes deny admitting privileges to doctors who provide abortions for reasons ranging from ideological opposition to the fact that too few of their patients will ever need hospital care, such laws have the effect of shutting down clinics.
Plaintiff(s): Hope Medical Group for Women
Co-Counsel/Cooperating Attorneys: Demme Doufekias and J. Alexander Lawrence at Morrison & Foerster
The Center for Reproductive Rights and the law firm Morrison & Foerster filed a lawsuit challenging the admitting privileges requirement on behalf of three women’s health centers, doctors, and their patients. Without a court order, the three plaintiff clinics would have had to stop providing abortions on September 1, 2014, the day the law took effect. Once the law was enacted, the plaintiffs’ doctors applied for admitting privileges, but most were unsuccessful in obtaining them. The Louisiana law gave doctors only eighty-one days to secure admitting privileges even though hospitals in the state may take anywhere from ninety days to seven months to make a decision about a doctor’s privileges application.
The case was filed August 22, 2014. On August 31, 2014, one day before the law took effect, the federal district court granted our clients’ request for a temporary restraining order, allowing them to continue providing abortions. A six-day hearing on the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction was held in Baton Rouge in June 2015. On January 26, 2016, the district court ruled that the law is unconstitutional and granted the motion for a preliminary injunction. On February 16, the State filed an emergency request asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to stay the district court's decision and allow the law to go into effect. The Fifth Circuit granted the State's request on February 24 and the admitting privileges law was briefly allowed to go into effect. The plaintiffs filed an emergency application to vacate the stay with the U.S. Supreme Court on February 26. The Court granted the stay on March 4, allowing the clinics in the state to resume providing abortion care. The case was then placed on hold pending a decision from the Supreme Court in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, the Center's challenge to a similar clinic-shutdown law in Texas.
Following the historic decision in Whole Woman's Health, the case was remanded back to the district court for additional fact finding. On April 26, 2017, the district court struck down the law as unconstitutional. The State filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and oral argument took place on May 3, 2018. On September 26, a three-judge panel issued a 2-1 decision upholding the admitting privileges law, reversing the district court and dismissing the case. On October 5, we filed a petition for rehearing en banc, asking the full Court of Appeals to reconsider the case, which was denied on January 18, 2019. After our motion asking the Fifth Circuit to stay its decision was also denied, we filed an emergency stay application with the Supreme Court. On February 7, the Court granted the stay and the law will remain blocked until the filing and disposition of a petition for certiorari.