Clinics, doctors challenge anti-abortion law

The constitutionality of a new state law requiring abortion clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital is being challenged in federal court.

Attorneys for abortion clinics in Metairie, Shreveport and Bossier City and two physicians filed a lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court in the Middle District in Baton Rouge to stop the law from going into effect Sept. 1.

“If the statute is enforced on its effective date of September 1, 2014, it is not at all clear that any doctor currently providing abortions at a clinic in Louisiana will be able to continue providing those services, thereby eliminating access to legal abortion in Louisiana,” according to the filing.

“As such, the admitting privileges requirement threatens irreparable injury to the Clinic Plaintiffs, their staff, and their patients, including but not limited to, by depriving Plaintiff’s patients’ of their constitutional right to an abortion.”

The law, passed in the 2014 Legislature, was pushed by anti-abortion forces who said it was aimed at protecting the health of women who get abortions. It requires every doctor providing an abortion to have active admitting privileges at a hospital not more than 30 miles from where the abortion is performed.

The law, backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, had overwhelming legislative support.

“The state will defend the law,” said Shannon Bates, Jindal’s deputy communications director. “This law protects the safety of women by ensuring they have access to critical services in emergencies and holds them to similar standards as other surgical facilities.”

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office issued a statement saying attorneys were reviewing pleadings and were unable to comment further.

The lawsuit initially seeks a temporary restraining order to stop the law’s enforcement.

Clinic lawyer William Rittenberg, of New Orleans, said he expects a court decision on that issue next week.

Similar laws passed in other states such as Texas have resulted in abortion clinic closures and women having to go further distances for services.

The three clinics that sued are among five existing in the state today. Others are located in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Rittenberg said physicians have not had enough time to get the required hospital admitting privileges, which can take anywhere from 90 days to seven months for hospitals to decide. And then there are barriers to obtaining admitting privileges, from required level of hospital activity to religious considerations.

“The whole idea you need this hospital privilege is ridiculous,” Rittenberg said. “The number of complications that occur is a tiny fraction.”

The lawsuit states that legal abortion is “one of the safest procedures in medical practice.”

For instance, in the case of Metairie’s Causeway clinic, there has been a complication rate of 0.0009 percent over the last five years; at Hope in Shreveport statistics, over the last 20 years, the rate of patient complications has been 0.007 percent; and at Bossier City over the past five years, 0.004 percent, the lawsuit states.

No physician who provides abortions at Bossier City or Causeway clinics has admitting privileges at a hospital within the 30-mile distance.

One physician at Hope has admitting privileges, but the physician who provides the majority of abortions does not, the court filing states.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Caldwell, state Department of Health and Hospitals Medical Director Dr. Jimmy Guidry and Mark Henry Dawson, president of the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB.

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