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Keith Horcasitas and his wife Maria Horcasitas and many others march down Fourth Street Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019 just after the start of the Louisiana Life March South, which began near the State Capitol gardens and finished with a program at Galvez Plaza on North Boulevard. The march was sponsored by Louisiana Right to Life, Louisiana Baptist Convention, Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, United Pentecostal Church of Louisiana, Louisiana Family Forum, the Knights of Columbus, Baton Rouge Right to Life, Caring to Love Ministries, and Louisiana’s Concerned Women for America. The event was held 46 years after the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that established a woman's legal right to an abortion.

WASHINGTON — Abortion rights advocates asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to set aside a Louisiana law that could possibly shutter the state's abortion clinics, advancing arguments that could lead to the first major test of how justices appointed by President Donald Trump address reproductive issues.

“Abortion access in the state is already hanging by a thread,” Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Wednesday after the group filed its latest petition asking the high court to strike down a law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Act 620, which passed the Louisiana Legislature in 2014 but has never gone into effect due to court battles, is being challenged by a pair of Louisiana doctors, backed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, who say it’s too onerous. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said the law was passed to protect women and that justices should let it stand.

After the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to strike down the law, the Supreme Court in February temporarily halted it just hours before it was set to take effect so opponents could file a challenge. Its provisions remain on hold pending a decision from the nine-member high court.

Northrup said her group wants a decision without presenting oral arguments because they believe that the court already ruled on the issue when it struck down a near-identical Texas law three years ago.

The emergency stay issued in February came on a 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts voting with the more liberal wing of the court — Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

A decision on the Louisiana law could provide a significant sign of how Trump’s appointees might deal with abortion laws across the country. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both Trump appointees, were not on the bench in 2016 when the the court, in a 5-3, vote deemed the Texas admitting privileges law unconstitutional. Both Trump appointees voted against the recent petition for an emergency stay of Louisiana's law.

Kavanaugh, the newest member of the court who faced a rocky confirmation after President Donald Trump nominated him to replace the retiring Anthony Kennedy, penned his own dissent in the Louisiana case, arguing doctors would have a 45-day period to attempt to obtain admitting privileges after the law went into effect and saying that, if doctors were unsuccessful, the court could revisit the issue.

“If the doctors, after good-faith efforts during the 45-day period, cannot obtain admitting privileges, then the Fifth Circuit’s factual predictions, which were made in the context of a pre-enforcement facial challenge, could turn out to be inaccurate as applied,” Kavanaugh wrote.

Only one of the state's three abortion clinics currently would meet the admitting privileges requirement, and critics of the 2014 law argued that it would shutter the other two, effectively crippling access to abortions for thousands of Louisiana women.

According to Wednesday's court filing, the abortion rights advocates claim that most physicians who provide abortions in Louisiana had been unable to obtain admitting privileges since the law was passed in 2014, despite efforts.

About 10,000 abortions are performed in Louisiana each year.

Kathaleen Pittman, administrator for Hope Medical Group in Shreveport, said the law would likely force the only doctor they have with admitting privileges to stop performing abortions out of concern that he could become a target.

“We have seen protester activity become more frequent and nasty — nasty is the only word I have for it,” she said. “If this law is allowed to stand, he will not be able to continue.”

Pittman has been at the clinic, which performs abortions up to 16 weeks of pregnancy, since the 1980s.

She said abortion restrictions drive up costs for women. Louisiana requires a 24-hour waiting period between first consultation and when a pregnancy can be terminated.

“Most are already moms,” Pittman said.

Landry has been an avid defender of the anti-abortion law and argued against the stay that was ultimately granted. In a statement Wednesday, he said the law provided appropriate safeguards for women.

"Just weeks after the Delta Clinic in Baton Rouge called an ambulance because the clinic had no IV fluids to stabilize a bleeding patient, and Kevin Work — a doctor at the same clinic — had his medical license suspended, abortion advocates claim that requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges offers 'non-existent benefits,'" Landry wrote. "My office will continue to vigorously defend that requirement, and I reiterate my commitment to protecting Louisiana women."

The State Medical Board in February suspended Work's license to practice medicine in Louisiana after an anti-abortion group questioned his credentials.


Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.