NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled against abortion clinics Wednesday by allowing a Louisiana law to take effect that requires doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a federal judge's ruling that had found the admitting privileges unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge John deGravelles in Baton Rouge last month barred Louisiana officials from enforcing the mandate. DeGravelles has not yet ruled on the state's abortion law itself, though he heard arguments about it in June.
Supporters say the law's provision requiring admitting privileges at area hospitals is meant to protect women's health. Opponents say it's meant to make it essentially impossible for women to get abortions and would do just that.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents three clinics and their doctors, said it would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block the appellate court's ruling. The center said the ruling threatens to close three of Louisiana's four abortion clinics.
"Today's ruling thrusts Louisiana into a reproductive health care crisis, where women will face limited safe and legal options when they've made the decision to end a pregnancy," Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.
The three-judge appellate panel disagreed and disputed whether clinics would be forced to close.
The panel's opinion, written by U.S. Circuit Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, also disputed deGravelles' analysis that the law "deprives 99% of Louisiana women of access to an abortion."
"Louisiana is likely to succeed in showing that these calculations are neither sufficient nor sufficiently reliable for Plaintiffs to establish an undue burden on a large fraction of Louisiana women," Elrod wrote.
In the ruling, Elrod also noted that the 5th Circuit has upheld similar requirements for admitting privileges and rebuked the plaintiffs for failing "to grapple with this court's prior precedent" in their arguments.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to take up a similar Texas law March 2.
"When a similar law passed in Texas, women were forced to drive hundreds of miles, leave the state, or take matters into their own hands," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a news release. "It is irresponsible to allow this medically unnecessary restriction to go into effect less than a week before the Supreme Court will consider whether this type of law is even constitutional."
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry praised the ruling and said in a statement that it allows "Louisiana's pro-life and pro-woman admitting privileges law to go into effect." He called the law "a reasonable, common-sense safety measure."
"Anyone who has outpatient surgery would expect her doctor to admit her to a hospital in the event of complications; women seeking abortions should have the same assurance of prompt care," Landry said.
Northup countered that abortion "is extremely safe" and that getting admitting privileges at hospitals "can be very difficult" because of "hospital policies or biases against abortion providers."
The lawsuit contends that Louisiana does not require doctors performing procedures other than abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. "Physicians perform similar, and often higher risk, outpatient procedures in their offices without admitting privileges," it says.
Louisiana's law is among hundreds of abortion restrictions passed across the country in recent years.