More abortion restrictions coming for La. women, doctors

by Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press

Photo by Billy Hathorn/Wikimedia

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — While Louisiana's law requiring abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges may be jeopardized by this week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling, more limitations on the procedure are planned in the state.

Lawmakers enacted a half-dozen new abortion restrictions in the regular legislative session that ended earlier this month, lengthening waits for the procedure, toughening criteria for doctors who perform abortions and limiting second-trimester abortion options.

The new laws take effect Aug. 1.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, supported the provisions, describing himself in a statement as a "pro-life governor who wants to do everything we can to provide women with quality health care and reduce the number of abortions performed in Louisiana."

On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Louisiana has had a similar regulation since 2014 that has been on hold by a federal judge and appears threatened by the Supreme Court ruling.

Abortion rights groups have said they expect the latest regulations passed by Louisiana lawmakers to prompt court challenges. No lawsuits were immediately filed as the governor signed the bills, but they might be more likely after the provisions begin later this summer.

"Legal strategy is still being weighed about how and when to challenge the new restrictions, but no official decisions have been made," lawyer Ellie Schilling, who represents several of Louisiana's abortion clinics, said Tuesday in an email.

Lawmakers who sponsored the new laws and anti-abortion groups expressed confidence they could withstand court challenges.

Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, said officials with his organization "keep in mind that there is a court process" as they work with legislators on crafting abortion restrictions.

"It doesn't end in the Legislature. When the governor signs a bill, that's not the end of the day. You've got to have something that will withstand the judicial process," Clapper said.

Among the latest regulations, women in Louisiana will have to wait 72 hours after consulting with a doctor and get a mandatory ultrasound, joining at least five other states with the longest wait time in the country. The current 24-hour wait will stay in place for women who live 150 miles or more from the nearest abortion clinic.

Second-trimester abortion options will decrease, because Louisiana is banning the procedure called dilation and evacuation — unless it's deemed necessary to prevent "serious health risk" to the mother.

Also starting in August, doctors who perform abortions will be required to be either board certified or certifiable in obstetrics and gynecology, or family medicine. Abortion providers will have to bury or cremate fetal remains.

And Planned Parenthood is threatened with loss of its Medicaid financing if the organization starts performing abortions in Louisiana.

Federal health officials have warned such defunding efforts may violate the law, and a federal judge has blocked previous Louisiana efforts to cut off Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood clinics. Organization leaders say they still will seek a license from Louisiana's health department to offer abortions at Planned Parenthood's new clinic in New Orleans.

"While the climate for Planned Parenthood in Louisiana is a hostile one, we refuse to allow politicians to take us back. We will keep advancing," Melaney Linton, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said in a statement.