A federal trial judge in Baton Rouge is preparing to weigh in on an anti-abortion battle that appears to be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A 51/2- day trial, which ended Monday, looked at the constitutionality of a 2014 Louisiana law that opponents claim serves as a barrier to a women’s legal right to the procedure that would end her pregnancy. The law requires abortion clinic physicians to have admitting privileges to a nearby hospital.
Similar laws in Texas and Wisconsin — one upheld, the other not — are on hold because of U.S. Supreme Court actions. The court on Monday stopped Texas from enforcing the law as scheduled Wednesday, pending an appeal of its legality to the high court.
In Louisiana, the decision rests with U.S. District Court Judge John deGravelles, of the Middle District of Louisiana, who said he would rule by Sept. 30 and called the case before him “a very important and very difficult issue.”
Before ruling, deGravelles will consider post-trial briefs, in which lawyers from each side will present their proposed findings of fact and law to the judge. Kyle Duncan, the state’s lead lawyer, said state government will depend heavily on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the Texas law. The court found access would not be impeded with the admitting privileges restriction.
Meanwhile, plaintiffs — physicians and the owners of abortion clinics — are counting on a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in a Wisconsin case, where the court also blocked enforcement. The court concluded there was no medical necessity for the regulation and was simply an anti-abortion maneuver. The Supreme Court earlier blocked Wisconsin’s try to reinstate the state law, thereby letting the appeals court decision stand.
The 2013 Texas law could result in fewer than a dozen abortion clinics remaining throughout the Lone Star state. Prior to the law’s passage, 41 existed — a number that’s already down by half.
The 5th Circuit found enough access for Texas women would exist as to not violate rights granted under the landmark U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi are in the 5th Circuit.
“My feelings are that we put in the evidence that we wanted. ... We believe that this law is identical to the admitting privileges law the 5th Circuit already upheld,” Duncan said.
Two of the six doctors who perform abortions in Louisiana today have admitting privileges to nearby hospitals, he said.
There are five abortion clinics in Louisiana. Operators of those located in Metairie, Shreveport and Bossier City and their physicians filed suit challenging the state law. Other clinics are located in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
Ilene Jaroslaw, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said plaintiffs hope the judge adopts the 7th Circuit approach, which takes into account medical evidence. The court said the state had not submitted evidence to show that admitting privileges are necessary to protect the health of women who have abortions. The federal judge found that the law was motivated for the unconstitutional purpose of restricting access to legal abortions.
“That’s what we consider the model,” Jaroslaw said. “The 7th Circuit said these laws create a burden on a woman’s right to an abortion. Admitting privileges laws have substantial impact.”
“In this case, there’s detrimental effect on women, but we also think the purpose of this law is to shut down clinics. It’s a sham,” Jaroslaw said.
The American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association have weighed in opposing the restriction.
DeGravelles said he would get transcripts of the proceedings to attorneys by late July, then they would have 30 days from the time the transcripts are received to submit post trial briefs.
After that, the parties have 10 days to respond to each other’s briefs.