Michael Carroll Feb. 29, 2016, 10:48pm


NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and other state officials scored a victory last week when a federal appeals court decided that new state restrictions on doctors who perform abortions may go forward, but a similar case that’s before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday will likely bring the final word on the matter.

A U.S. district judge in Baton Rouge had blocked certain provisions of Louisiana’s Unsafe Abortion Protection Act of 2014 from taking effect while the law is on appeal. The state law requires physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where the procedure takes place. Supporters of the law say it is designed to protect the health and safety of women opting for an abortion by ensuring that they could be quickly admitted to a nearby hospital in the event of complications.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked District Judge John deGravelles’ previous decision and disputed contentions that the admitting privileges would result in the closure of several clinics.

“The Attorney General’s Office is representing the Department of Health and Hospitals in this matter,” Ruth Wisher, Landry’s press secretary, said in an email to the Louisiana Record. “When the case went on appeal, lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office filed briefs.”

Wisher stressed that the goal of the Unsafe Abortion Prevention Act of 2014 was to close a legal loophole allowing clinic doctors to perform abortions without admitting privileges. 

“This act was an attempt to put outpatient abortion providers on the same level as those who perform surgeries in ambulatory surgical centers,” she said.

Complicating matters, however, is the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to begin hearing arguments in a similar case involving admitting privileges in Texas. Abortion-rights activists told The New York Times that the Texas law would cause the closure of 30 of that state’s 40 abortion clinics. The high court will deliberate with only eight members as a result of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and a 4-4 tie vote would largely sustain such restrictions.

Wisher indicated that allowing the Louisiana restrictions to take effect would not necessarily result in any closures. 

“As long as abortion facilities are in compliance with the law, they may still operate,” she said. “And our office will ensure the rule of law is followed.”

Landry has repeatedly said that, “Act 620 is a reasonable, common-sense safety measure.” And Wisher said Monday that the attorney general remains committed to this legislation and other measures “to protect the unborn, their mothers and all Louisiana women.”

Representatives from the Center for Reproductive Rights, an organization representing three Louisiana abortion clinics and their doctors, said in a statement last week that it would seek emergency relief from the U.S. Supreme Court. The center expects three clinics performing abortions in the state to close their doors unless the high court acts. Such closures would mean that the closest clinic available for many Louisiana women would be in Jackson, Mississippi, the center reported.

Both houses of the Louisiana legislature passed the law containing the abortion restrictions by overwhelming margins.

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