New abortion rules edge closer to final passage

by Walter Pierce

Opponents say the new restrictions are medically unnecessary and are designed to limit women's access to abortion.

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - New Louisiana abortion restrictions that would require doctors performing the procedure to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles are nearing final legislative passage, over the opposition of abortion-rights groups that say the bill will shutter clinics.

A bipartisan Senate Health and Welfare Committee backed the House-approved measure without objection Wednesday, sending it to the full Senate for consideration.

Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said her proposal would ensure women have access to proper care if they have complications because of an abortion.

"The women of Louisiana deserve to be protected when they walk into an abortion clinic, and as the regulations stand right now, they are not," said Deanna Candler, an LSU law student representing Law Students for Life of America.

Supporters of the bill described possible medical complications like hemorrhages, cervical injuries and infections. They said abortion clinics have a "special interest loophole" that sanctions a lower standard of care than what ambulatory surgical centers must have.

"It's not like getting your tonsils out. This is a traumatic operation," said Cindy Collins, founder of Louisiana Abortion Recovery Alliance, an anti-abortion organization.

Opponents said the new restrictions are medically unnecessary and are designed to limit women's access to abortion.

They said the legislation would shut down three of Louisiana's five abortion clinics, leaving only two clinics in northwest Louisiana, as much as a five-hour, one-way drive for women who live in the southeastern end of the state.

"We all want to reduce abortions, but I feel like this is not really a practical way to go about that," said Sarah Dumas, a New Orleans pediatrician. "I don't believe it does anything to promote patient care."

In March, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a similar Texas law that requires admitting privileges and that has been blamed for closing one-third of the state's abortion clinics. The operators of Mississippi's only abortion clinic say the same type of law recently passed there would force its closure.

Abortion-rights groups say doctors who provide the procedure have difficulty getting hospital privileges, not because of their credentials but because hospitals are leery of the attention such privileges could draw.

"The first thing that would happen is they would have a line of protesters and it would be a publicity nightmare for them," said Sylvia Cochran, an administrator for abortion clinics in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The bill also would force women who take the abortion pill to meet the same 24-hour waiting period and ultrasound requirements as women who have surgical abortions. It wouldn't, however, apply to emergency contraceptives, known as the "morning-after pill."

In addition, the measure would require a doctor who performs more than five abortions a year to meet the health and safety inspections required of abortion clinics. Current law sets that requirement at 60 abortions.