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Federal Court Rejects Bid to Halt Center for Reproductive Rights Lawsuit Against Louisiana Abortion Restrictions

(PRESS RELEASE) – A Louisiana federal court today rejected in large part the state’s efforts to shut down litigation brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights challenging every abortion restriction passed by the state in 2016, finding that there is sufficient basis for the bulk of the claims to proceed.

Those claims include challenges to a measure which would triple the state’s mandatory delay for women seeking abortion from 24 to 72 hours and a measure which bans the most common method of second trimester abortion.

In addition to clarifying the scope of several claims, the court dismissed the Center’s challenge to a measure restricting the donation of fetal tissue. That claim was dismissed without prejudice, and may be reinstated if facts on the ground in Louisiana change.

Today’s ruling also preserved the Center’s claim that the remaining measures amount to a cumulative undue burden and that courts must consider not only the individual harm of each restriction but the aggregate harm to women forced to navigate multiple restrictions.

Said Janet Crepps, Senior Counsel the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Louisiana lawmakers are putting women’s safety at risk with a reckless crusade to block access to abortion by piling one burdensome restriction atop another until it creates a wall between women and the constitutionally protected health care they need.

“Anti-abortion lawmakers cannot rely on medically unjustified restrictions and arbitrary red tape to sneak around constitutional protections that the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed over and over for decades.

“We will continue the fight back against these restrictions and use the power of courts and the rule of law to protect the fundamental rights of women in Louisiana and across the country.”

Today’s decision comes in a lawsuit filed on behalf of women’s health care providers challenging the seven abortion restrictions passed in Louisiana last year. Louisiana passed the highest number of measures restricting women’s access to abortion in 2016, and the Center challenged every single one, arguing that each is unconstitutional on its own and that collectively the bills impermissibly burden women seeking access to abortion in Louisiana. 

In addition to the mandatory delay and method ban measures, the Center’s lawsuit also challenges:

  • a measure which could effectively ban medication abortion by imposing impossible requirements on women and their physicians when a woman completes her medication abortion outside of a doctor’s office; 
  • a measure which polices a woman’s reason for needing to end a pregnancy by banning abortion in cases of genetic abnormalities;   
  • a measure which further limits the availability of abortion by restricting which types of physicians may offer abortion care;
  • a measure which further stigmatizes abortion care by not only prohibiting any state or local government agency from entering into any funding agreement with any abortion provider, but also prohibiting state or local government officials from contracting with any third party that contracts with an abortion provider;

This unprecedented wave of new restrictions adds to the many obstacles that Louisiana women already face when they have made the decision to end a pregnancy, including a 24 mandatory delay and a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.  Louisiana is facing a bill for more than $4.7 million in legal fees accrued during the Center’s court battle with the state over another clinic shutdown law that was recently permanently blocked by a federal district court judge. Remarkably, Louisiana continues to defend that law even though it is virtually identical to the Texas restriction struck down in Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt.

The litigation was filed in federal district court in Baton Rouge by Janet Crepps, Zoe Levine, Molly Duane of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a team of attorneys from Morrison and Foerster, and William E. Rittenberg of Rittenberg, Samuel, and Phillips, LLC on behalf of Hope Medical Group for Women.  There are nearly one million women of reproductive age in Louisiana and only three providers of safe and legal abortion in the state.

The Center for Reproductive Rights in Louisiana

Earlier this year, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a new lawsuit against the state of Louisiana’s clinic licensing law that has forced most of the state’s abortion clinics to close. The law contains more than 1,000 medically unnecessary requirements that apply exclusively to clinics that provide abortion. Since the law took effect in 2001, the number of abortion clinics in Louisiana has fallen from 11 to three.