Abortion rights group asks Supreme Court to strike Louisiana admitting privileges law

PHOTO: The Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., is pictured on March 15, 2019.PlaySusan Walsh/AP, FILE
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Abortion rights advocates have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to summarily strike down a controversial Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

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The court in February, by a 5-4 vote, temporarily put the law on hold – hours before it was set to take effect -- pending an expected appeal from the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing a Louisiana abortion clinic and two physicians.

The organization is challenging a decision by the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upholding the Louisiana law.

“The stakes in this case are high for the rule of law, and the real world consequences for women in Louisiana could be dire,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Abortion access in the state is already hanging by a thread. The number of clinics has already fallen from 11 in 2001 to just 3 today.”

The group says enforcement of the law would impose a near-impossible standard for abortion providers to meet, citing administrative hurdles to securing admitting privileges across the state.

“The doctors in our case and throughout Louisiana who provide abortions engaged in extensive efforts to obtain privileges and virtually all of them were shut out,” said T.J. Tu, the lead attorney on the case.

In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Texas, saying the rules effectively imposed an “undue burden” on women’s right to access an abortion by reducing the number of available providers.

“So blatant is the 5th Circuit’s refusal to follow [that precedent] that we are asking in our petition for a summary reversal,” Northup said. “That’s how clear cut this case is. There’s no need for new arguments.”

Supporters of the Louisiana law say the admitting-privileges requirement is a reasonable restriction to ensure the health and safety of women seeking abortions.

“We urge the Court to grant cert in this case so that the Justices can take a closer look at the facts themselves and let the law stand,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List.

“Louisiana legislators on both sides of the aisle enacted this law to protect women from the abortion lobby which repeatedly puts profit over health and safety standards, and has proven incapable of policing itself,” she said in a statement when the law was first put on hold.

Kathaleen Pittman, clinic administrator at one Louisiana abortion provider, said health care workers are already seeing an uptick in cases of attempted “self-abortions” because of shrinking options for women.

“We do anticipate a rise in self-abortions. We’ve seen it reported to us, especially from women coming to us from Texas, of trying alternative means,” Pittman said. “Women are going to have abortions, the question is: will they be illegal and unsafe, or legal and safe?”

Louisiana authorities have 30 days to file a response with the Supreme Court. While it is possible the justices could grant their petition this term, it’s more likely they do so during the October term, the parties said.