NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Abortion services in Louisiana will be restricted to one clinic in New Orleans unless the U.S. Supreme Court reverses an appellate court ruling, an abortion rights group said.
On Wednesday, a ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a Louisiana law to take effect that requires doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
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 is representing abortion clinics and doctors, said only one clinic in Louisiana would be able to provide abortions unless the Supreme Court reverses the ruling.
The center said the Women's Health Care Center in New Orleans will remain open because it has doctors with admitting privileges. But the group said two other two clinics — one in Baton Rouge and one in Bossier City — were forced to stop providing abortions Thursday. Meanwhile, a fourth clinic in Shreveport would have to stop providing abortions unless the Supreme Court stops Louisiana's law from going into effect, the group said.
"The fourth clinic is hanging on by a thread, with one physician who will have to cease providing services unless we can get immediate relief from the Supreme Court," said David Brown, a staff lawyer with the Center for Reproductive Rights.
A fifth clinic in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans, closed recently.
Abortion clinics and their doctors sued Louisiana to block the law. In late January, U.S. District Judge John deGravelles in Baton Rouge barred the state from enforcing that requirement, but his decision was overturned by the appellate court.
The same appellate court in New Orleans allowed a similar law to go into effect in Texas last June. The Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments in the Texas case on March 2.
The clinics did not respond to messages seeking comment and confirmation of the status of abortion services at their facilities.
"The effect (of the ruling) is proving devastating on women's ability to access safe and legal abortion services in Louisiana," Brown said.
Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Rebekah E. Gee said in a statement that the law now in effect ensures "facilities and physicians that perform abortions are operating in the safest manner possible and have ready access to emergency care."
A violation carries a fine of up to $4,000 and the loss of a clinic's license, she said. Doctors who perform an abortion without admitting privileges could also face licensing sanctions, she said.
Ruth Wisher, press secretary for Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, said that "if abortion clinics are in compliance with the law, they may remain open."
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.
Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, countered that obtaining privileges at a hospital is not so difficult.
"If they can't get privileges, it's maybe an indication that they shouldn't be providing the services at an outpatient facility," Clapper said.
Louisiana's law is among hundreds of abortion restrictions passed across the country in recent years