A state rule requiring new abortion clinics to prove their services are needed was unenforceable so she decided to scrap it, the state’s health chief said.

“We recognized we were asking for (needs) information that is not typically found for this kind of provider,” said state Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert.

“You get theoretical evidence of the potential need,” Kliebert said. “Based on that, it seemed very clear to me it was a rule we could not enforce ...”

The sudden about-face came as Kliebert reviewed an updated filing by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast seeking to operate an abortion clinic in its health center now being built in New Orleans. Kliebert’s decision cleared the way for Planned Parenthood to apply for a license.

Kliebert initially determined that Planned Parenthood had not demonstrated a need for additional abortion services in the area — a decision appealed by the organization.

Kliebert cited lack of quantitative information, such as local physicians and individuals who can attest to shortages. She also noted that two other abortion clinics are located in the area — one in New Orleans and another in Metairie.

The change came with the realization that abortion’s “ a sensitive subject,” Kliebert said. Providers and patients aren’t going to step up to testify to a need for abortion services, like they do, for example, with a pediatric day facility, she said.

Word of Kliebert’s decision surfaced late Friday just days before the state went to federal court to defend a new restriction on abortion providers that opponents say could shutter clinics and reduce services, placing an unconstitutional “undue burden” on women seeking abortions.

Plaintiffs in the case — three abortion clinics and several unnamed doctors — argue that the state is anti-abortion and looking to impose barriers through its laws and policies.

A state regulation adopted in 2012 as part of anti-abortion efforts added outpatient abortion clinics to the list of facilities requiring “need review.”

Anti-abortion interests had been and continue to try to block the clinic, which would be Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s first in Louisiana.

Louisiana Right to Life executive director Benjamin Clapper said Kliebert made the right decision on the needs review.

“I believe the state found it’s not in their jurisdiction,” said Clapper. He said the state should not be put in the situation of determining whether there is a need for abortion services.

Now, Clapper said, “just like any medical facility, they are going to have to do their application for a license. All they have done is poured the slab on that facility.”

“We believe there’s no reason to establish a facility that’s going to try to squeeze out the maximum number of abortions,” he said.

Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Jewel Bush said the group had thought all along that the needs review was unnecessary. “We are glad because it puts us one step closer to providing the full range of reproductive health in New Orleans,” she said.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.