La. House committee advances anti-abortion bill

A Louisiana House committee approved without opposition Wednesday legislation that, when passed in other states, helped shut down abortion clinics.

House Bill 388 goes to the full House of Representatives, which could vote on it as early as next week.

Opponents say the idea behind the legislation mirrors a nationwide strategy to create requirements that few abortion clinics can meet.

Backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, HB388 would require physicians who perform abortions to have active admitting privileges at a hospital that provides obstetrical-gynecological services and is within 30 miles of the place where the abortion is performed.

HB388, called “The Unsafe Abortion Protection Act,” is sponsored by Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, the chairwoman of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus.

Supporters of the concept argue that requiring physicians to have a relationship with a particular hospital that allows them to admit patients without having to go through the usual admissions process — called “admitting privileges” — provides better protection for women who choose to have abortions.

Opponents counter that the requirement is unnecessary because most of the pregnancy-ending procedures are routine and because current practices in the medical field require transport to the nearest hospital in case of emergency, regardless of where the physician has admitting privileges.

Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert testified abortion procedures carry health risks, such as blood clots and perforation of the uterine wall. HB388 would put abortion clinic physicians under the same requirements as those who work at out-patient surgical centers.

“It will strengthen our ability to protect mothers and the unborn,” Kliebert said.

“You know what happens when there’s a complication? A woman walks into an emergency room from a botched abortion, hemorrhaging, and they have to examine her to know what’s going on — the lapse (in time) could cost her life and the ability to have a child ever,” Jackson said.

She added the physician who performed the abortion would know more about the woman and what was going on and could react more quickly.

Dr. Damon Cudihy, of Lafayette, said he has been called to the emergency room to care for women “abandoned” by the physicians who performed their abortion. He said there should be continuity of care because that is best for the patient.

Abortion-rights advocates countered that abortion clinics would be subject to stricter requirements than ambulatory surgery centers which perform more dangerous procedures with higher levels of sedation.

Amy Irvin, of the New Orleans Abortion Fund, said abortion is a “minor surgery.”

She said abortions are provided by “trained and skilled physicians” and there are contracts with physicians with admitting privileges in case of emergencies.

New Orleans lawyer Ellie Schilling said physicians at ambulatory surgery centers have to be in good standing and a member of a hospital medical staff, which is not the same as having admitting privileges.

“The same language is not used in the regulation,” Schilling said. “It is not required of any other office-based physician in this state who performs out-patient surgery in their office,” such as oral surgeons, plastic surgeons and podiatrists.

Schilling said passage of the bill would result in the immediate closure of three of Louisiana’s five abortion clinics those in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Metairie. The other clinics are in Shreveport and Bossier City; their physicians have admitting privileges at a hospital.

Women in southern Louisiana could be forced to drive up to 400 miles — one way — to obtain an abortion, said Melissa Flournoy, Louisiana state director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.

Louisiana is already ranked as the most pro-life state in the U.S. based on the laws now on the books. Only a handful of legislators in recent years have opposed abortion restrictions.

The new legislation is patterned after laws passed in recent times in other states.

Texas, Tennessee and Utah are enforcing laws that require hospital admitting privileges.

Laws in another five states, including Mississippi, have been temporarily enjoined from enforcement pending final court decisions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which keeps up with sexual and reproductive health issues worldwide.

Six other states are considering similar bills.

For instance, Oklahoma’s House passed a similar measure in February that is awaiting action in that state’s Senate.

The House Health and Welfare Committee approved the legislation after listening to more than two hours of testimony — some of it bringing testy exchanges.