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Louisiana's anti-abortion law goes to court

Louisiana clinics sue to block the same admitting privileges law that has shuttered half of the clinics in Texas.
Pro-choice activists hold a vigil outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 23, 2012 in Washington, DC.
Pro-choice activists hold a vigil outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 23, 2012 in Washington, DC.

Three clinics that provide abortions filed a federal suit Friday seeking to block a Louisiana law that would likely shut them down and, they say, put women’s health at risk.

The law, which requires abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic, is set to go into effect on September 1 unless a court steps in. It is similar to laws passed in neighboring states. In Texas, where an admitting privileges law was allowed to go into effect, about half of the state’s clinics have shut their doors.

Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, Bossier City Medical Suite and Causeway Medical Clinic in Metairie are three of the state’s five abortion clinics. The suit says they have “a mere eighty-one days to comply” with the law, “an impossible task,” since hospitals can take much longer to decide on an application. But even more time may not be enough: In nearby Mississippi and Texas, hospitals have rejected abortion providers outright because they oppose abortion or fear backlash.  

When Governor Bobby Jindal signed the bill into law in June, he said it would “give women the health and safety protections they deserve and continue to make Louisiana a state that values individual human life."  

But the suit begs to differ. “Legal abortion is one of the safest procedures in medical practice. Abortion complications are exceedingly rare: nationwide, less than 0.3% of abortion patients experience a complication that requires hospitalization,” the plaintiffs write. “The Clinic Plaintiffs’ hospitalization rates are even lower: at Hope, over the last 20 years, just 0.007% of patients experienced complications requiring hospitalization. At Bossier, the complication rate is only 0.004% for  the past 5 years, and Causeway’s complication rate for the past 5 years was just 0.0009%.”

They argue that shutting down the clinics will make women less safe, because they are more likely to resort to unsafe methods or wait until later in their pregnancy until they can afford to travel to other clinics.

The two other clinics in Louisiana are in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and are run by the same administrator. They did not join the suit, but their administrator told the Times-Picayune that those clinics’ providers do not have admitting privileges, and would be shut down if they were unable to obtain them.