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Federal judge to rule on new Louisiana abortion restrictions

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana officials on Friday urged a federal judge to dismiss most of the claims in a lawsuit challenging new abortion restrictions in the state.

U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson didn’t immediately rule after a hearing on the request by attorneys for the state.

Lawyers for a Shreveport clinic and its doctors sued last July to block seven measures that lawmakers enacted in 2016, including extending the waiting period for many women seeking an abortion from 24 to 72 hours.

State officials agreed last year not to enforce the new restrictions pending Jackson’s decision on whether to block the laws, which were due to take effect in August 2016.

The laws’ supporters have said they are designed to protect women’s health. The lawyers challenging them argue the regulations impose unconstitutional burdens on the clinics and the women they serve.

Jackson heard arguments Friday related to six of the seven new laws. At this stage in the case, lawyers aren’t asking the judge to rule on the merits of the claims in the lawsuit, filed by lawyers for Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport.

But lawyers for the defendants, including Louisiana Health Secretary Rebekah Gee, argued that the clinic’s claims must be dismissed over jurisdictional issues and other legal deficiencies.

One of the 2016 laws would bar government agencies from contracting with or funding any organization that performs abortions or contracts with an abortion provider.

The clinic’s lawyers argue the measure would block its access to critical services it needs to remain open.

“There would really be nothing standing between the clinic and this kind of catastrophic situation,” said Zoe Levine, a New York City-based lawyer from the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Jackson asked Elizabeth Murrill, solicitor general for Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office, if the law hypothetically could prevent an office supply company from providing copy paper to an abortion clinic.

“We don’t interpret the law to apply to basic services,” Murrill said.

“That’s not what the statute says,” the judge responded.

Levine said tripling the current 24-hour waiting period, except for women who live more than 150 miles (240 kilometers) from an abortion provider, exposes women to greater health risks and expenses.

“There’s a whole host of injuries related to this extended waiting period,” she said.

In a court filing, Louisiana’s attorneys said the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that a waiting period “is consistent with the State’s interest in ensuring that such a grave and consequential decision is made with fully informed consent.”

Other laws challenged by the lawsuit include:

— A requirement for doctors who perform abortions to be board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology or family medicine, or be a resident training under one. Levine said the measure would hamstring the Shreveport clinic’s recruiting efforts.

— A ban on “knowingly and for money” buying, selling or otherwise transferring the organs and tissues of aborted fetuses, with some exceptions.

— A requirement for physicians to ensure that aborted fetal remains are disposed of by interment or cremation.

A Bossier City clinic also was a plaintiff in the case before it closed in April, leaving only three such clinics in Louisiana. The other two are in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

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