BATON ROUGE — Louisiana’s health department is refusing to let Planned Parenthood perform abortion services at its new clinic under construction in New Orleans, the latest flashpoint in a long-running dispute over abortion access in the state.
The organization received a rejection letter last week from the Department of Health and Hospitals, which said Planned Parenthood didn’t demonstrate the need for another abortion facility in Louisiana.
“Your application failed to establish the probability of serious, adverse consequences to recipients’ ability to access outpatient abortion services if you are not allowed to apply for licensure,” Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert wrote in the rejection letter.
Abortion rights supporters say the decision is one more in a list of actions Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration has taken to create roadblocks for women seeking the procedure in Louisiana.
Many states have sought to enact restrictions in recent years aiming to limit abortions. Arkansas banned abortions after 12 weeks, though a judge has tossed out that law. Mississippi has an ongoing court challenge over an admitting privileges law similar to the one in dispute in Louisiana. Texas passed a requirement that abortion clinics have the same facilities as surgical centers.
Jindal and lawmakers have repeatedly added new restrictions for abortion clinics and for women who want to end a pregnancy. A recent law requiring doctors who perform abortions to be able to admit patients to a hospital within 30 miles is on hold while a federal lawsuit is pending. Opponents of the law say it threatens to shutter all Louisiana abortion clinics.
“Politicians in Louisiana are using every trick in the book to eliminate access to safe, legal abortion in the state. Make no mistake, this fight is not over,” Melissa Flournoy, Louisiana state director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said in a statement.
Under a set of 2012 regulations, the Jindal administration required abortion clinics to undergo the same “facility need review” required of residential care facilities, like nursing homes and hospice facilities.
The regulations require any outpatient abortion facility to demonstrate its services are needed to preserve access before it can apply for a license to perform abortions in the state. The state health department used those regulations to refuse Planned Parenthood’s application.
Planned Parenthood has 30 days from the application rejection to decide whether to appeal the health department’s decision to an administrative law judge, or it can skip that review and file a lawsuit challenging the rejection.
Louisiana has five abortion clinics around the state.
Planned Parenthood’s $4 million health center, expected to open later this year, would be the third clinic offering abortions in the New Orleans area. Lawmakers tried to slow down construction with regulatory hurdles, but were unsuccessful.
The health center will double the size of the organization’s current facility in New Orleans, which offers a wide array of primary care services, including screening for cervical cancer, breast cancer and sexually transmitted diseases. If it received the necessary approvals from the state, the clinic would be the first Planned Parenthood Facility in Louisiana to offer abortions.
Louisiana was named this week as the “most pro-life state” in the country by the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life. The Legislature has placed language in state law to explain the state only allows abortion because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled they are legal.