States Continue to Defend Unconstitutional Clinic Shutdown Laws in Spite of Supreme Court Ruling

(MEDIA ADVISORY) Earlier this week the Center for Reproductive Rights requested a federal district court permanently block Louisiana’s Texas-style clinic shutdown law per the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt.  Louisiana continues to defend its requirement that all doctors providing abortion services have admitting privileges at a local hospital—despite the fact that the nation’s highest court found a nearly-identical Texas law blatantly unconstitutional earlier this year.  Their position is particularly notable considering the nation’s highest court has already stepped in to keep the Louisiana law from taking effect earlier this year.    

The Center for Reproductive Rights also requested a federal district court restart case proceedings in a challenge to Mississippi’s clinic shutdown law today, which not only includes a nearly-identical admitting privileges requirement, but also forces any physician providing abortion care at an abortion facility to be either a board-certified or board-eligible obstetrician-gynecologist.  Mississippi is the only state in the country which has such a requirement.

“The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Whole Woman’s Health couldn't have been clearer that sham laws like the ones still standing in Louisiana and Mississippi are unconstitutional,” said Julie Rikelman, Litigation Director at the Center for Reproductive Rights.  “Continuing to defend these clearly unconstitutional laws harms women and wastes taxpayer resources.”

Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt

On June 27, 2016 the Supreme Court issued its most sweeping abortion-related ruling in more than two decades, reaffirming a woman’s constitutional right to access safe, legal abortion.  Specifically, the case challenged two provisions of the 2013 Texas law House Bill 2 (HB 2). The first provision required that all abortion providers obtain local hospital admitting privileges, a medically unnecessary mandate that has already forced the closure of more than half the clinics in the state. The second provision requires every licensed abortion facility to meet the same hospital-like building standards as an ambulatory surgical center (ASC), which amounts to millions of dollars in medically unnecessary facility renovations.  The nation’s highest court found both of these requirements unconstitutional, noting that the requirements “vastly increase the obstacles confronting women seeking abortions in Texas without providing any benefit to women’s health capable of withstanding any meaningful scrutiny.”   

Case history:  Louisiana’s admitting privileges requirement

Attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights, Morrison & Foerster, and William E. Rittenberg of Rittenberg, Samuel, and Phillips, LLC filed the challenge to Louisiana’s clinic shutdown law on behalf of Hope Medical Group for Women, Causeway Medical Clinic, and Bossier City Medical Suite in August 2014 (Causeway Medical Clinic closed in February 2016).  A federal district court judge blocked the measure from taking effect the same month the case was filed, and continued to block the measure in January 2016. 

On February 24, 2016 the U.S Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted an emergency stay of the federal district court decision from late January, immediately closing two clinics in the state and threatening to close another were it not for immediate Supreme Court relief.  The Supreme Court stepped in on March 4—only two days after hearing oral argument in the challenge to the nearly-identical Texas law—and blocked the Fifth Circuit ruling, ensuring the remaining four clinics could remain open while the litigation continued. 

Case history:  Mississippi’s admitting privileges and ob-gyn requirements

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a legal challenge to both the admitting privileges and ob-gyn requirements in 2012 on behalf of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi—and Dr. Willie Parker.  A federal district court partially blocked the admitting privileges requirement in July 2012 and later fully blocked the admitting privileges requirement in April 2013—barring the state from enforcing it pending the outcome of the litigation.  Neither court order involved the ob-gyn requirement, which has been in effect since July 2012.  A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit heard arguments on the district court’s preliminary injunction of the admitting privileges requirement in April 2014 and upheld the injunction blocking the law in July 2014. 

In November 2014 the Fifth Circuit refused to reconsider its decision to continue to block the law; in February 2015, the state of Mississippi requested the U.S. Supreme Court review the Fifth Circuit’s ruling.  Over a year and a half later—and only one day after ruling that Texas’ clinic shutdown law was unconstitutional—the Supreme Court refused to review the measure, ensuring the last clinic in the state could remain open while the legal challenge continued.

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