Judge hears request to block new abortion law

By Janet McConnaughey
Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - An abortion rights organization wants a federal judge to block enforcement of Louisiana's new abortion law while its lawsuit to overturn the law makes its way through court.

U.S. District Judge John deGravelles is hearing arguments Thursday in the request for a temporary restraining order to keep state officials from enforcing the law.

The law requires doctors who perform abortions to be able to admit patients to a nearby hospital, starting Sept. 1.

Doctors haven't had enough time to get those privileges, so the law would probably shut down Louisiana's five abortion clinics, The Center for Reproductive Rights and local attorney William Rittenberg said in a suit filed for abortion clinics in Shreveport, Bossier City and Metairie and two doctors who work at them. The doctors are identified as John Does 1 and 2.

One of those doctors has been turned down by one northwest Louisiana hospital to which he has applied, does not expect to get privileges at a second because it is a Catholic hospital "and admittedly ... would not satisfy" minimum requirements at Willis Knighton, the third hospital to which he applied, according to written arguments from an attorney for Kathy Kliebert, secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals.

The other doctor "has also applied to Willis Knighton, where he is likely to be denied privileges for the same reason," and has had no response from Tulane Hospital, wrote attorney Kyle Duncan of Washington.

"It makes little sense to grant plaintiffs a TRO in order to complete the applications process, when they openly admit that they will almost certainly not be granted admitting privileges," he wrote.

Duncan also wrote that the doctors could easily have gotten more time by telling the state earlier that they'd applied for admitting privileges.

Laws like Louisiana's have passed across the South. Rulings on those laws have varied, even within the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal, which hears appeals from Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi.

One 5th Circuit panel upheld a similar Texas law in March, but a different panel voted 2-1 in July to overturn Mississippi's. The majority found the law unconstitutional because it would close Mississippi's only abortion clinic.

At least 19 clinics in Texas closed after that state's law was passed. Twenty-four remained open when the law was upheld; 18 were still open early this month.

The 5th Circuit has been asked to hear both cases en banc, by all of the court's judges.

"Both the relevant facts and the applicable law in this matter are evolving," so it makes sense to hold off on enforcing Louisiana's law at least until the doctors have heard from all the hospitals to which they applied, Rittenberg wrote.

That will let the court know what effect the law has had on the doctors and clinics, and it may have an appeals court ruling to clarify the law within the 5th District, he wrote.

Published: Fri, Aug 29, 2014


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