Advocates Claim Politics Behind Closing of Louisiana Abortion Clinic

Jodi Jacobson

Using a new law, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals revoked the license of Hope Medical Group for Women, ordering the clinic to immediately cease performing abortions.

Louisiana. It’s the state that five years later is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.  The one where the economy is still reeling from the recent BP oil disaster, while the Governor, Bobby Jindal, according to the Wall Street Journal, is still fighting tooth and nail against any reasonable regulation of deep-water oil drilling. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Louisiana has an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent, and the United States Department of Agriculture ranks Louisiana first among all other states in child food insecurity, with more than 200,000 children getting so little food and nutrition that they face possible impairment in intellectual, physical and emotional development that can hinder them from reaching their full potential.

And as if these things were not proof enough that the state government has more than enough to be worried about, its own failure to regulate the oil and chemical industries threatens the health and lives of children and their families daily, via regular exposure to industrial waste and contamination from oil and chemical industries linked to asthma, cancer, infertility, miscarriage, low birth weight, low sperm count, and developmental and respiratory disorders for children exposed in utero. 

But with all these issues at hand, the state of Louisiana has other priorities.  Late afternoon on Friday, September 3rd, on the eve of Labor Day weekend and in a politically-motivated action, the state of Louisiana revoked the license of Hope Medical Group for Women, ordering it to close and immediately cease providing abortion care.

But before the state notified Hope Medical Group’s founder, Robin Rothrock, of the order of closure or the reasons for issuing the order, it notified the media, and then sent a fax to the clinic. After business hours.

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According to new regulations approved earlier this year, the state can now more easily reject licenses for clinics providing abortion care with a simple decision by the state’s Secretary of Health.  The Associated Press reports that:

Act 490 of the 2010 Louisiana Legislature, sponsored by State Rep. Fred Mills of St. Martinville, allows for the immediate suspension of an abortion facility’s license if the DHH “secretary determines that the violation or violations pose an immediate threat to the health, welfare, or safety of a client or patient.” Prior to Act 490, an abortion facility under licensure revocation would be allowed to continue performing abortions pending appeal of such revocation, which can take months.

The closure of Hope Medical Group was the first time the law has been put into action by the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals.

Hope Medical Group for Women was founded 30 years ago this last June by Rothrock. It serves women within a 200-mile radius around Shreveport.  Most of the clients coming to the clinic, according to Rothrock, are “the poorest of the poor women in need of abortion care.”

“We have provided excellent services over a long history,” Rothrock told Rewire. “In terms of the…immediate closure [and] protective order for women, [it] has nothing to do with anything that has happened at the clinic. We have been doing this for 30 years and have never before been forced to close for any reason.”

In an interview on Labor Day, Rothrock noted that the clinic has been inspected more than six times by the state, with minor corrections in process or procedure pointed out by inspectors and addressed by the clinic. 

The most recent inspection was conducted this summer, she noted, and “we knew something was different because they [the inspectors] were with us for 3 days. But the inspection indicated to us corrections we needed to make, and we had a clear understanding [after the inspection] of what we needed to do.”

“At that time, the inspector told us everything was ok.”

The difference now, Rothrock said, is health bill 1370, which as earlier noted provides for the state to immediately shut a clinic down, apparently without prior notice or due process.

Regulatory battles, says Rothrock, “become more and more complicated, and…have less and less to do with the care of women.”

Over the course of time, Hope Medical Group has had to sue the state of Louisiana more than 20 times to counter superfluous politically and ideologically-driven efforts to reduce women’s access to safe abortion care. 

But, she notes, “This [order of closure] was a complete shock.  To some extent this could be retaliatory,” in response to the lawsuits earlier won by Hope Medical Group. 

The irony, she notes, is that these actions are taken “under the guise of protecting women and guaranteeing quality of abortion care,” which to her could not be further from the truth. Rothrock says:

“No one in their right mind would think the state of Louisiana is interested in quality abortion care. It is interesting that the state sees itself as an expert on these issues when it does not provide any such care, and when it prohibits use of any public dollars for abortion care, including training.  The state has done everything it can to deny women access to abortions.  It doesn’t even provide [emergency] care even in hospitals for women in need of abortion care.”

“The whole situation is capricious. Ludicrous. Retaliatory.”

“Clearly,” she notes, “our first and immediate objective is to get doors back open, and we are having our lawyers look at the details.”

Meanwhile, it seems as though the worst enemy of low-income women and children in the state of Louisiana is the state government itself.

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