But judge extends period for abortionists’ pending hospital applications, allowing most abortion facilities to remain open
U.S. Federal District Court Judge John deGravelles issued a limited temporary restraining order August 31, allowing abortion physicians who are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state who have pending admitting privileges applications at hospitals to continue performing abortions until hospitals reach a decision on their applications.
Judge deGravelles’ decision means that if one of the litigating physicians has a pending application at a local hospital, he or she will be able to continue performing abortions until he or she receives a response from the hospital. This allows the abortion facilities in Shreveport, Bossier City and Metairie to remain open since physicians there have pending applications at local hospitals.
But he did not halt implementation of Louisiana’s Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, and the new law went into effect September 1. Act 620, which easily passed in the Louisiana Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal on June 12, requires physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their facility.
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge on August 22 on behalf of three of the state’s five abortion facilities and two abortion physicians. The plaintiffs asked the judge for a temporary restraining order against Act 620 to prevent the law from taking effect while its constitutionality was challenged in court. The plaintiffs also contended physicians had not had enough time to secure admitting privileges. A hearing on the TRO request was held August 29.
The state defendants offered this as a compromise to the abortion plaintiffs, recognizing the precedent of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals when it ruled in a similar Texas case that physicians with pending applications could not be penalized. The abortion plaintiffs rejected this compromise, seeking instead a full temporary restraining order that would have gone beyond the 5th Circuit’s decision. Judge deGravelles rejected this request.
Judge deGravelles also ordered a status conference to be held at the end of September to receive status updates on admitting privilege applications. At that point, the parties will discuss how to proceed with the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, which will go to the underlying constitutional merits of Act 620.
“HB 388 (Act 620) was overwhelmingly approved by the Louisiana Legislature as a measure to promote the continuity of care and protect the health and safety of Louisiana women,” said Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life. “Prompt implementation of Act 620 will allow Louisiana to raise the standard of care in Louisiana abortion facilities sooner rather than later. While any delay of the law is a setback to that goal, we believe Judge deGravelles’ limited decision was a fair one.
“Unfortunately, the abortion industry’s attorneys are interested only in preventing the patient-centered standards from taking effect instead of working with the state to find a fair way to move forward. They only wanted the law to be shut down.”
The Baton Rouge and New Orleans abortion facilities are not party to the lawsuit and therefore must abide by Act 620. At this point, the Baton Rouge facility is not performing abortions, though they are doing the mandated “counseling” appointments before sending women to the New Orleans’ abortion facility. It appears a physician at the New Orleans facility has obtained privileges, and the facility remains open, though nothing is definitive.
During the August 29 hearing, attorneys representing the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) and other defendants argued there was no reason for a restraining order since they were going to abide by the 5th Circuit ruling.
Judge deGravelles, who urged both sides to come to an agreement on the handling of pending privileges. He asked attorney Kyle Duncan to get DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert to sign a declaration reiterating the fact that she would not initiate action against any doctor until hospitals had made a decision on their pending applications for admitting privileges.
Duncan submitted that document to the court Thursday afternoon and offered it as a reasonable compromise to the plaintiffs. On August 30 however, a possible agreement between the parties broke down.
With any chance of agreement gone, Judge deGravelles released his decision determining that abortion physicians with pending privilege applications can continue performing abortions. However, he limited the decision to the litigating abortion physicians and specified that if a physician does not receive admitting privileges, he or she cannot continue performing abortions.
“Since abortion was legalized in the United States, the abortion industry has virtually opposed every common-sense effort to raise medical standards at abortion facilities and give women more information about abortion and their options,” Clapper said. “They have done it again in fighting the implementation of Act 620. These abortion facilities want less oversight so they can sell more abortions.
“The legal process is far from over. We thank Judge deGravelles for his fair and impartial proceedings and look forward to further litigation and the eventual full implementation of Act 620.”