Judge strikes down Louisiana abortion law: unconstitutional

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge has struck down a Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have permission to admit patients to a nearby hospital, citing a U.S. Supreme Court decision against a similar Texas law.

U.S. District Judge John deGravelles ruled Wednesday in Baton Rouge. He had barred the state from enforcing the law in a preliminary opinion saying it was unconstitutional, but a federal appeals court overruled him. However, the state agreed to wait on enforcement.

Since then, the nation’s highest court has overturned the same appeals court’s decision upholding the Texas law.

“We are reviewing this opinion and will determine how to best proceed,” said Elizabeth Murrill, the top constitutional lawyer in the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office.

Former Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the law in 2014.

Supporters said doctors need to be able to admit patients to a hospital within 30 miles (50 kilometers) in case of medical complications arising from abortions. Opponents said the law was meant to make it essentially impossible for women to obtain abortions, and would have done just that.

The Supreme Court said Texas couldn’t show that the law responded to any significant health problem, deGravelles noted.

The Louisiana case record “does not contain any evidence that complications from abortion were being treated improperly, nor any evidence that any negative outcomes could have been avoided if the abortion provider had admitting privileges at a local hospital,” he wrote.

Rather, he wrote, the law “would increase the risk of harm to women’s health by dramatically reducing the availability of safe abortion in Louisiana.”

Louisiana had five abortion clinics when the law was passed, and opponents said it would shutter four of those. Since then, two have closed, one of them earlier this month.

The law would have closed two of the remaining three, said the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented some of those clinics. In a statement Wednesday, the group also noted that similar laws in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama, Ohio, and Wisconsin have been permanently blocked since the Supreme Court ruling last June.

“Louisiana women who have made the decision to end a pregnancy deserve access to safe and legal health care free of political interference,” said Nancy Northup, the group’s president and CEO. “Sham laws that rob women of their rights and shutter high-quality clinics are dangerous and unconstitutional.”

The group said it is currently challenging all seven abortion restrictions which Louisiana passed in 2016. The state has agreed to hold off enforcing those laws, which include extending a mandatory delay between consultation and abortion from 24 to 72 hours.