Fate of Louisiana Abortion Clinics Hinges on Supreme Court Emergency Request

Louisiana’s three remaining abortion clinics are in jeopardy after Fifth Circuit’s Rogue Ruling

(PRESS RELEASE) – Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed an emergency motion with the United States Supreme Court asking it to block a Louisiana law designed to shutter abortion clinics throughout the state. The law, set to go into effect on February 4, would require physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. In a rogue decision, the Fifth Circuit violated Supreme Court precedent and upheld the law in September and denied a petition for rehearing from the Center for Reproductive Rights. 

An identical admitting privileges law in Texas was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2016 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights. The Supreme Court recognized in  Whole Woman’s Health that requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges “provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes an ‘undue burden’ on their constitutional right to do so.”  

“The Fifth Circuit brazenly ignored recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent squarely on point,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We are filing an emergency motion today with the Supreme Court to block this law before women in Louisiana are harmed. There is no way this law can stand under the Supreme Court ruling in  Whole Woman’s Health, which struck down the same law in Texas.” 

In September 2018, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit issued a split 2-1 ruling upholding Louisiana’s admitting privileges law. In his dissent, Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham criticized the majority for using “beyond strange” reasoning to evade Supreme Court precedent and said the decision “ought not stand.” Subsequently, the Center for Reproductive Rights submitted a petition urging the entire Fifth Circuit to rehear the case and correct the panel’s failure to follow Supreme Court precedent. The petition was denied.  

The law at issue, Act 620, would require any physician providing abortion services in Louisiana to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the procedure. There is no medical justification for this requirement, as the complication rates for abortion are extremely low.  In fact, the rate of major complications requiring hospitalization is 0.05% for abortions in the first trimester and approximately 1% in the second trimester. Hospitals frequently deny admitting privileges to doctors who provide abortions for reasons ranging from ideological opposition to the fact that too few of their patients will ever need hospital care.  

Louisiana ranks among the lowest in the country in terms of abortion access, with about 312,000 women of reproductive age per clinic. Since 2001, the number of abortion clinics in Louisiana has fallen from 11 to three as the state has imposed increasingly onerous restrictions on abortion providers. The Center for Reproductive Rights and Louisiana health care providers are currently challenging many of these other medically baseless restrictions in two other lawsuits.  

This case was originally filed in August, 2014 by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of three women’s health centers, doctors and their patients, with local counsel Larry Samuel. 

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MEDIA CONTACT: Kelly Krause; kkrause@reprorights.org; 917-637-3649