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SCOTUS halts enforcement of La. admitting privileges requirement

The Supreme Court on Friday issued an order temporarily halting enforcement of an admitting privileges requirement in a Louisiana law (Act 620), the New York Times reports (Liptak, New York Times, 3/4).

According to the Los Angeles Times, the order allows two Louisiana clinics, located in Bossier and Baton Rouge, to resume providing abortion care after they temporarily suspended such care under the law (Savage, Los Angeles Times, 3/4).

Louisiana case background

The law requires abortion providers in the state to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the facility where they practice. Abortion clinics in Shreveport, Bossier City and Metairie filed suit against the law in August 2014.

In March 2015, former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) administration asked U.S. District Judge John deGravelles to dismiss parts of the suit, arguing that the court should throw out the clinics' claims that the law constitutes a "medically unreasonable" requirement and that lawmakers intended for the law to reduce abortion access.

Ilene Jaroslaw -- an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), which is representing the plaintiffs -- argued that case law is not settled on such issues and that the claims should be considered during the trial. She added that dismissing those claims would reduce the ability of the facilities to provide the court with medical evidence that could show that the admitting privileges measure restricts abortion access "with no obvious benefits to women's health."

In May 2015, deGravelles dismissed some claims, ruling that while the law could have a rational basis, it could put too great a burden on women trying to access abortion in the state. In early 2016, deGravelles ruled that the admitting privileges requirement is unconstitutional and finalized a preliminary injunction barring the enforcement of the requirement. DeGravelles has not yet issued a ruling on the law itself.

The state appealed the ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which blocked deGravelles' temporary injunction on the law and allowed it to take effect while it is being challenged. The abortion clinics filed an emergency appeal in response, asking the Supreme Court to block the 5th Circuit's ruling and noting that only one clinic in the state would be able to remain open if the law was permitted to take effect (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/29).

Details of SCOTUS injunction

The Supreme Court did not state a reason for the injunction. However, the high court noted that the hold was "consistent with its action to grant a stay" in a challenge to a Texas law (HB 2) that imposes similar regulations on abortion providers.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Texas case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, last week (Los Angeles Times, 3/4). Whole Woman's Health centers on two provisions of HB 2. One requires abortion clinics in the state to meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers, and the other requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/3).

According to the New York Times, Friday's order suggests that the high court will keep the Louisiana admitting privileges rule on hold until it rules on the Texas lawsuit (New York Times, 3/4). The high court is expected to release its decision in Whole Woman's Health in late June (Los Angeles Times, 3/4).

CRR, La. abortion clinic praise hold

Regarding the order to halt the Louisiana law, CRR CEO Nancy Northup said, "For the third time in a little over a year, the Supreme Court has stepped in to preserve women's ability to get the constitutionally protected health care they need."

She added, "Just two days after arguing our case before the Supreme Court to strike down a similar sweeping law in Texas, we look to the Justices to put an end to these sham measures threatening women's rights, health and lives across the [United States]" (Barnes, Washington Post, 3/4).

Separately, Kathaleen Pittman -- administrator for Hope Medical Group for Women, the abortion clinic located in Shreveport, Louisiana -- said she was "delighted" with the order. Pittman said she was not sure the Shreveport clinic would have been able to stay open after trying to accommodate all the patients diverted from the two clinics that shut down under the law's temporary enforcement. "We were having to delay care because there was no way for us to handle all this," she said (Los Angeles Times, 3/4).