Louisiana Is Staring Down a Future as an Abortion Desert

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Louisiana, a state with just three remaining abortion clinics, is at risk of losing all but one of them unless the Supreme Court intervenes.

Because of a state law passed in 2014, as of February 4th, doctors who provide abortions in the state will be required to have admitting privileges at a local hospital—and have only 81 days to secure those privileges. As multiple courts have concluded, and as Jezebel has reported before, admitting privileges have nothing to do with the safety of the procedure: they are business contracts, and access to them is incredibly political for abortion providers. If the law goes into effect as planned next month, two of Louisiana’s remaining three abortion clinics will likely close, and people seeking abortions in the state will have just one clinic left.

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“The right to safe and legal abortion in Louisiana is already hanging on by a thread and this is precisely the type of situation where the Supreme Court is supposed to come and make sure that their rights are preserved,” TJ Tu, an attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told Jezebel. “If we do not get a stay and this law goes into effect, it is highly likely that Louisiana could become an abortion desert in the very near future, and those poor and rural women in Louisiana are going to have to some how find their way to far away places just to exercise their constitutional rights and get the healthcare they need.”

It’s striking that the law has even gotten this far: In 2014, the Center for Reproductive Rights helped file a lawsuit, June Medical Services v. Gee, successfully challenging the law, which a district court blocked. In September of 2018, however, a panel of three judges on the Fifth Circuit has upheld the law and, as of mid-January, declined to rehear the case in front of the full court. On January 25 of this year, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed an emergency application asking the Supreme Court to stay the Fifth Circuit panel’s decision that would allow the law to go into effect.

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This, despite a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that struck down parts of a similar Texas law that also imposed an admitting privilege requirement. In its ruling, the Supreme Court found that provisions of the law—including admitting privileges for abortion providers—created an undue burden on patients seeking an abortion.

“Here, unlike in Texas, the Act does not impose a substantial burden on a large fraction of women under WWH and other controlling Supreme Court authority,” the Fifth Circuit decision read. The decision said that “there is no evidence that any of the clinics will close as a result of the Act,” that “driving distances will not increase,” and that “the cessation of one doctor’s practice will affect, at most, only 30% of women, and even then not substantially.”

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Tu, who is working on the case, told Jezebel that he was “shocked” by the Fifth Circuit panel’s decision. There’s “no difference in the way the law works or the disastrous impact it’s going to have on abortion access in either state,” he said. “What they did actually makes no sense. They said a lot of things, none of which actually distinguish the Whole Women’s Health case from our case.”

The Fifth Circuit decision did not consider losing half the state’s clinics—already decimated to three—an undue burden. “If the law will go into effect, it will start shedding clinics almost immediately,” Tu said.

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Still, there is reason to hope that the Supreme Court, despite its conservative bent, will stay the decision and block the law, according to Tu: About one week after Texas’s similar H.B. 2 law went into effect, the Supreme Court granted the Center for Reproductive an application for a stay, and Tu thinks that’s likely to happen in this case as well.

“We are hopeful because,” he said, “regardless of the justices’s views on abortion rights, Roe v. Wade in general, a majority of the court, in various speeches and prior cases, have said that precedent is important for the credibility of the courts in general. The Supreme Court only decided this case two years ago. It is a straightforward application of precedent, and I would think even more conservative justices like Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh would recognize that what the Fifth Circuit did here was improper.”

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Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is a senior reporter at Jezebel.

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