Federal Judge Overturns Louisiana’s Strict Liability Law, Denial of Malpractice Coverage for Abortion Providers

(PRESS RELEASE) A federal judge entered a permanent injunction today against Louisiana’s strict liability law — which allowed legal action against doctors who performed abortions regardless of whether they committed any fault or negligence in the abortion procedure — and declared that the law is unconstitutional.
The same federal judge also ruled that excluding physicians who perform abortions from the benefits of Louisiana’s tort reform laws, including participation in its state-run medical malpractice fund, known as the Patient Compensation Fund (PCF), is unconstitutional.
“This law was nothing but an attempt to drive responsible abortion providers out of practice,” said Stephanie Toti, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This decision is a tremendous victory for Louisiana reproductive healthcare providers and the women they serve. Finally, physicians who perform safe and legal abortions can have the same opportunities to serve patients as every other physician in Louisiana, without fear of frivolous lawsuits.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the law in 2010, arguing that its provisions treated abortion providers differently than other medical professionals, discouraging doctors from practicing in Louisiana and as a result, imposing significant barriers to women seeking abortions in the state.
Providers who participate in the PCF receive a range of benefits including an overall cap on medical malpractice damages of $500,000 per plaintiff; a limitation on physician liability of $100,000 dollars and a requirement that any medical malpractice claim must be reviewed by a medical review panel before it can be filed in court. In addition, the Fund provides access to coverage when there is no insurance available on the commercial market or when coverage is only offered at unaffordable rates.
These benefits serve to discourage frivolous lawsuits against health care providers and to ensure that health care providers can obtain adequate insurance for non-frivolous lawsuits. Because abortion providers were specifically targeted and excluded from the program, providers were being driven out of practice — leaving women in Louisiana with fewer and fewer options when seeking an abortion.
U.S. District Court Judge Helen G. Berrigan ruled that the law “places an undue burden on a woman’s right to seek an abortion,” and wholly agreed with a previous decision of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that the “statute significantly reduces the number of abortion providers in Louisiana because it sets a standard no physician can meet and creates a climate in which no provider can possibly operate.”
CRR brought this suit after the Patient's Compensation Fund refused to convene a medical review panel to review a claim of malpractice brought against two physicians who perform abortions in Louisiana.
“Unfortunately Louisiana’s relentless attacks on reproductive rights have created substantial obstacles for women seeking abortions in the State,” Toti added. “We hope that today’s decision will trigger a change for the better.”
The case, Hope Medical Group for Women v. LeBlanc, was filed by the Center along with New Orleans attorney William Rittenberg. The plaintiffs in the case are a medical facility in New Orleans and two physicians who provide abortions there.