A federal appeals court has denied a Shreveport-based abortion clinic's request to halt implementation of a law it says would "virtually eliminate" abortion services in Louisiana.
The decision came swiftly but delayed by a week enforcement of the state law. The law will now take effective Feb. 4, barring a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the state's solicitor general.
"Absent a stay from the Supreme Court of the United States, the law will be effective Monday (Feb. 4) when the Fifth Circuit issues its mandate and the ruling becomes final," Louisiana Solicitor General Liz Murrill said in a statement.
The law requires physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, a measure the law's proponents say protects women's health in case of a complication. Opponents say it is an unnecessary hurdle designed to shutter abortion clinics.
Murrill said the law is a licensing requirement that will be enforced by the Louisiana Department of Health.
In a statement Friday, the agency said it is "exploring options to accurately determine compliance and properly enforce the law."
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld the statute, overturning a lower court decision. First, a panel of judges voted 2-1 in its favor, and then last week, the full court decided against rehearing the case.
Attorneys with the Center for Reproductive Rights, an advocacy group that represents the Shreveport-based Hope Medical Group, had filed a motion with the appellate court Friday asking it to stay the ruling, pending a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Circuit Judge Jerry Smith denied the request Friday afternoon, but the motion that was filed on the clinic's behalf triggered a seven-day delay in enforcement under court rules. Late Friday, the Center for Reproductive Rights said it had filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to intervene. The move could not immediately be confirmed.
Louisiana has just three abortion clinics, one each in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport. Those clinics were all open Friday, but administrators did not return calls seeking comment as to their future prospects.
T.J. Tu, senior counsel for U.S. litigation with the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the 5th Circuit ruling conflicts with an existing U.S. Supreme Court decision from 2016 that struck down a very similar law in Texas.
"The 5th Circuit really has gone rogue on this," Tu said in an interview Friday. "Two years ago, the Supreme Court looked at the very same law one state away, and said a law like this that provides no medical benefit but would drastically curtail access to abortion is in violation of the constitution."
Tu said the clinics have been working hard to find doctors with admitting privileges. But hospitals typically do not want to give these privileges to doctors who will not use them.
"The procedures are exceedingly safe, among the safest performed in the country," Tu said.
The decision was celebrated, however, by Louisiana Right to Life.
"Abortion facilities should not receive special loopholes opting them out of requirements that apply to all other outpatient surgical facilities. We look forward to the Supreme Court's consideration of this common-sense law protecting the health and safety of women," Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, said in a statement.
Act 620 was introduced by Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe. When it was signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana had five abortion clinics. Two have since closed.
The district court found that about 10,000 women seek abortions in Louisiana each year. But should the law go into effect, just one clinic — based in New Orleans — and one doctor would be left to perform them.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.