The state Department of Health and Hospitals has gone too far in its proposed rules governing the operation of abortion clinics, abortion rights interests testified Thursday.
“These regulations vastly exceed DHH’s statutory authority,” said Ellie Schilling, a New Orleans lawyer representing the outpatient clinics that terminate pregnancies.
About 80 people attended the DHH hearing to take public testimony on rules and regulations updated after the Louisiana Legislature passed several laws about the licensing and operation of abortion clinics. Nobody spoke in favor of the rules.
Schilling and other speakers complained about the detailed and difficult requirements that are not imposed on any other outpatient health care provider. “It’s a vast overreach to severely overregulate abortions in a punitive way,” Schilling said about the regulations that could go into effect as early as March 20. Abortion providers are “exploring” the possibility of filing a lawsuit that would challenge the regulations, which she said are clearly aimed at shutting down all five abortion clinics in the state.
The 20 pages of regulations include such requirements as clinics maintaining records that detail and evaluate the skills each employee possesses. Failure to keep all of that documentation could lead to the closure of the clinic. Therefore, the due process appeal rights of providers, several speakers said, are limited and a clinic’s license could be pulled for any single deficiency, regardless of how minor or whether it has anything to do with patient care.
Schilling delivered three good-sized cardboard boxes that she said contained letters and petitions containing signatures of more than 8,000 people who are against the proposed rules.
The public can file written comments until 4:30 p.m. Friday, after which DHH is required to respond to the comments and submit a report to the Legislature’s health committees.
The House and Senate Health and Welfare Committees, as is the Legislature in general, are favorable to anti-abortion measures. Louisiana, by virtue of the laws it has enacted, was called the most anti-abortion state in the U.S. by Americans United for Life, a national public interest law firm and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
Olivia Watkins, the DHH communications director, said Thursday that the rule changes “are intended to clarify regulations for providers, ensure the safety of Louisiana women and children, and create a single place in Louisiana rule where all requirements are outlined.
“Some of the changes are outside of the specific legislative mandates,” Watkins wrote in an email response to questions. She said some changes provide clarifications to existing rules.
“Politicians should not be allowed to deny a woman health care,” said Amy Irvin, co-founder of the New Orleans Abortion Fund.
Dr. Julie Finger, a New Orleans pediatrician, called the regulations a “medically unnecessary, unsound, politically motivated and targeted attack on abortion providers.” She said abortion providers already are subject to sufficient regulations to protect the health and safety of women. “Why do we need any extra regulations?” she asked.
Finger said she has “serious concerns” about patient-physician privacy rights because of some of the stipulations.
DHH limited each speaker’s comment to one minute. Several speakers complained, drawing applause but no change in policy.
Darlene Budgewater, a Medicaid section chief who conducted the hearing for DHH, said the updated abortion clinic rules and regulations “incorporate changes imposed by legislation.”
The Legislature has passed new laws governing drug- and chemically induced abortions, standards for clinic construction as well as a requirement that physicians have admitting privileges to a nearby hospital.
The hospital admitting privileges requirement is subject of a federal lawsuit with enforcement of the provision put on hold. There is a notation in the rules about the litigation and that the provision would be on hold pending its outcome. The law changes are reflected in the new rules, but DHH added a lot more, hearing participants said.
Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the State Capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/ politicsblog.