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Federal Court: Challenge to Louisiana Admitting Privileges Law Can Proceed

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The ruling dismisses a portion of the challenge to the law but lets the underlying challenge to its constitutionality proceed.

A federal judge Tuesday dismissed claims from reproductive rights advocates that a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers have hospital admitting privileges was medically unnecessary, but refused the state’s attorneys requests to dismiss the challenge to the requirement altogether.

HB 388, signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) last summer, requires all abortion providers carry admitting privileges at area hospitals to practice in the state. Reproductive rights advocates challenged the requirement in August, arguing it was impossible to comply with and unduly burdened abortion rights.

The requirement provided 81 days for doctors to obtain the required admitting privileges, which can take anywhere from 90 days to seven months to obtain, depending on each hospital’s process.

A federal court in August issued a temporary restraining order allowing the provision to take effect but blocking enforcement of the law while the providers tried to obtain the required privileges. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John deGravelles continued that line of split decisions and threw out a portion of reproductive rights advocates’ challenge to the law but refused to dismiss the lawsuit entirely.

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Tuesday’s ruling came on a motion for partial summary judgment, a procedural method of narrowing the legal issues a court considers for trial.

Attorneys defending Louisiana’s requirement asked the court to dismiss providers’ claims that the admitting privileges requirement “imposes a medically unreasonable requirement,” and that it has “the improper purpose of placing an undue burden on abortion access in Louisiana.”

Citing earlier decisions from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in similar admitting privileges challenges in Texas and Mississippi, the Louisiana court dismissed providers’ claims that the admitting privileges requirement was medically unreasonable, ruling states only need to provide a “rational basis” for such restrictions.

Because the Fifth Circuit had previously held admitting privileges requirements reasonable in Texas and Mississippi, the Louisiana court ruled that it was required to do the same here.

But deGravelles refused to dismiss the lawsuit entirely, ruling there was still a question as to whether the GOP-majority Louisiana legislature passed the law with an improper purpose, and the effect the law would have on abortion access.

Ilene Jaroslaw, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights and lead attorney in the case, was pleased with the ruling despite the minor setback.

“Yesterday’s ruling elevates facts over misinformation and provides another important victory in exposing the sham of Louisiana’s clinic shutdown law,” Jaroslaw said in a statement. “Women should never have their rights stripped away based on false pretenses and we are confident the court will continue to protect the health and safety of Louisiana women as the case continues.”

Advocates’ challenge to the law will proceed, but with a slightly narrower focus, thanks to Tuesday’s order. In the meantime, DeGravelles ordered the state not to enforce the admitting privileges requirement against those doctors who have applied for privileges and are still waiting on responses.

The admitting privileges requirement remains in effect, however, while the legal challenge to its constitutionality proceeds.

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