Gov. Jindal signs abortion restriction legislation

3 clinics could close because of hospital proximity requirement

As Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law Thursday new restrictions on physicians who can legally end pregnancies, a pro-abortion rights lawyer promised to take the state to court.

The new law requires abortion providers to have active admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of where the service is provided. The hospital would have to offer obstetrics and gynecology services.

The Legislature overwhelmingly approved the “Unsafe Abortion Protection Act,” the latest in a string of laws that have made Louisiana the most anti-abortion state in the U.S.

“These new laws will give women the health and safety protections they deserve, and continue to make Louisiana a state that values individual human life,” Jindal said in a news release issued by his office.

Ellie Schilling, a lawyer who represents abortion clinics in the New Orleans area, however, warned, “There will certainly be a court challenge to the (law’s) constitutionality.”

The requirement that physicians affiliate with a nearby hospital could lead to the closure of three of Louisiana’s five abortion clinics. The three are in New Orleans, Metairie and Baton Rouge. Two others, in Shreveport and Bossier City, likely would not be impacted by the added standards.

The new law would unconstitutionally restrict a woman’s access to a safe and legal abortion because it sets up requirements that the clinics could not meet and would, therefore, have no choice but to cease operations, Schilling said.

In states with similar laws, physicians often have found it difficult to receive admitting privileges, for a variety of reasons, including the geographical locale of the hospital or a facility’s religious affiliation. In Texas, more than two dozen clinics closed after a similar law was enacted in that state, and in Mississippi, all the clinics closed but one in Jackson.

The new law doesn’t go into effect until Sept. 1, and Louisiana clinics will attempt to comply with it.

But, at the same time, the clinics will assess “their litigation strategy” to determine how and where a legal challenge would be filed and what specific arguments would be raised, Schilling said. “At this time, the clinics are attempting to comply with the law, just as they comply with the many other statutes and regulations that already regulate their practice,” she said.

The constitutionality of similar laws has been challenged in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Wisconsin. The Texas law has been upheld in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said the new law in Louisiana is part of a dangerous national trend.

“With these same restrictions enacted in neighboring states, the United States is becoming a country where a woman’s ability to make personal medical decisions without interference from politicians will be dependent upon where she happens to live,” Richards said in a statement. “That cannot be what the Supreme Court intended when it established a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion more than 40 years ago.”

Planned Parenthood is the leading abortion provider in the United States but does not offer abortion services in its Louisiana facilities in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The group is building a facility in New Orleans that might provide abortions.

Jindal traveled to West Monroe for a news conference, where he signed the new abortion restriction, as well as legislation that stops Planned Parenthood from providing health and sex education information in public and charter schools.

The abortion clinic law also requires doctors who perform more than five abortions a year to maintain proper licensing subject to safety and health inspections by the state.

Joining Jindal were sponsors of the bills, state Reps. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, and Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe.

“The overwhelming and bipartisan passage of this life-protective legislation show that Louisiana continues (to be the) model for the nation what it means for lawmakers to be both pro-woman and pro-life,” said Ben Clapper, the executive director at the Louisiana Right to Life Federation, based in Metairie.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the State Capitol, follow blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.