Reproductive rights supporters in Louisiana rallied at the state capitol Tuesday afternoon despite the last-minute postponement of an abortion regulation hearing.
Thirty-five purple-clad protesters—among them abortion clinic owners, a pediatrician, and a number of law and medical students—marched, chanting, from the state library to the front steps of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), where they read emotional testimonies written in support of local abortion providers.
“These women are really the experts,” said New Orleans Abortion Fund board member Amy Irvin, introducing statements she and her fellow reproductive justice activists had planned to read at a public health hearing that DHH postponed just before 9 p.m. Monday night. No existing abortion provider in Louisiana—there are currently five in total—would have been immediately able to comply with the regulations, which imposed elaborate physical plant modifications and changed the way clinic licenses are handled, making it difficult, if not impossible, for providers to maintain licenses in good standing if they changed locations or ownership.
A DHH spokesperson told Rewire Monday night that the department had decided to entirely rescind new regulations that it had intended to pass on Tuesday.
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But by that time, reproductive rights advocates had already made plans to attend the postponed meeting; when they got news of the postponement, they shifted their focus instead to a “celebratory” rally.
One protester read a statement from a pregnant 15-year-old: “I am too young. I can’t take care of [a baby].” Another testimony came from a woman who had been able to end a pregnancy and escape an abusive relationship. Louisiana already has a mandatory 24-hour waiting period, and bans abortion after 20 weeks.
“Women who get abortions are mothers, Christians, sisters, daughters, who are making responsible decisions,” said Jennifer Chin, a medical student who came in from New Orleans, like most of the 35 protesters, to oppose the new regulations.
The regulations were originally enacted quietly in November 2013, when state health officials passed “emergency” abortion facility regulations that, in part, required people seeking abortion care to wait 30 days between a blood test and their abortion procedures. Abortion providers and stakeholders said the state gave them no warning, and no opportunity to work with bureaucrats to develop the rules together. Then, after the rules garnered national media attention in January, the department said it would rescind the blood test requirement. On Monday, the department rescinded the entire document.
Irvin said opponents of the “emergency” rules had so far gathered around 6,000 comments from the public in opposition to the new rules. Louisiana DHH said it intends to revise and resubmit a new set of regulations at some time in the future, though a spokesperson form the department declined to say when.