Constitutional Law

5th Circuit allows Louisiana abortion law to take effect; three of state's four clinics could close


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A federal appeals court on Wednesday refused to block a Louisiana law that requires abortion doctors to have admission privileges at hospitals within 30 miles from abortion clinics.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a judge’s injunction that had prevented the law from taking effect. The Washington Post (sub. req.), the Associated Press, the Advocate, the New York Times and Courthouse News Service have stories.

Two of the state’s abortion clinics are expected to immediately close as a result of the ruling (PDF). Two others share a doctor who has admission privileges, and one of them is also expected to close.

A case challenging a similar law in Texas is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The 5th Circuit had allowed the Texas law to take effect; the Supreme Court stayed the Texas admission-privileges law as it applied to two clinics in the Southwestern part of the state.

In the Louisiana case, the 5th Circuit said the plaintiffs had failed “to grapple with this court’s prior precedent” in the Texas case. The appeals court also said in a footnote that the issues pending before the Supreme Court in the Texas case “are not implicated here, where the district court found—and the parties do not contest on appeal—that Louisiana’s interest in protecting women is legitimate.”

The issue, the appeals court said, was whether the Louisiana law placed an undue burden on a large fraction of women who would otherwise seek an abortion absent the law. The appeals court criticized the lower court judge who stayed the law for “sua sponte calculations” that led him to believe the law deprived 99 percent of Louisiana women of access to abortion.

Louisiana was likely to succeed in showing that the judge’s calculations “are neither sufficient nor sufficiently reliable to establish an undue burden on a large fraction of Louisiana women,” the appeals court said.

The Center for Reproductive rights represents clinics and doctors challenging the Louisiana law. The group says it will file an emergency appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

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