By KEVIN McGILL, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal appeals court panel ruled Wednesday that a Louisiana law requiring that abortion providers have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals does not violate women’s constitutional abortion rights.
The 2-1 ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals notes a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down an admitting privileges law in Texas — a case known as Whole Woman’s Health. But, the majority said, Louisiana’s law does not impose the same “substantial burden” on women as the Texas law. The ruling reversed a Baton Rouge-based federal judge’s ruling in the case and ordered the lawsuit by opponents of the law dismissed.
“Almost all Texas hospitals required that for a doctor to maintain privileges there, he or she had to admit a minimum number of patients annually,” Judge Jerry E. Smith wrote in the opinion joined by Judge Edith Brown Clement. “Few Louisiana hospitals made that demand.”
Supporters of the law said abortion doctors need to be able to admit patients to a hospital within 30 miles (50 kilometers) in case of medical complications.
The law’s immediate effects are unclear as to the three abortion clinics that court records indicate operate in Louisiana — in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport.
Opponents of the law have argued it would make it very difficult or impossible for many women to obtain abortions. They have said it could result in one or two clinic closures and, eventually, a loss of access to abortion by 70 percent of the women seeking the procedure in Louisiana.
Smith rejected that contention. His opinion didn’t attack the district judge’s decision that the law’s benefits were minimal. But Smith wrote that the 2017 ruling, by Judge John deGravelles, overstated the burden on women seeking an abortion. He said there is no evidence that any Louisiana clinics will close because of the law. The opinion said there is one doctor at one clinic who currently is unable to obtain admitting privileges. If he stops performing the procedure, Smith wrote, it would affect “at most, only 30 percent of women, and even then, not substantially.”
The dissenting judge, Patrick Higginbotham, took his colleagues to task, saying they, in effect, retried the case after the district judge had given full consideration to the facts. “At the outset,” he wrote, “I fail to see how a statute with no medical benefit that is likely to restrict access to abortion can be considered anything but ‘undue,'” he wrote.
Wednesday’s decision was lauded in statements by Louisiana’s Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry, whose office defended the law, and by Louisiana Right to Life, an anti-abortion organization.
Attorneys for the law’s challengers did not return emailed queries Wednesday night.
Smith and Higginbotham were nominated to the 5th Circuit by President Ronald Reagan; Clement, by President George H.W. Bush.