Two of Louisiana’s last three abortion clinics will be able to keep their doors open, thanks to a federal judge who just permanently blocked a law that would have led to their closure.
“It is plain that Act 620 would result in the closure of clinics, fewer physicians, longer waiting times for appointments, increased crowding and increased associated health risks,” Judge John deGravelles found Wednesday of the Louisiana law that would have mandated that doctors performing abortions obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. “Act 620 would do little or nothing for women’s health, but rather would create impediments to abortion, with especially high barriers set before poor, rural, and disadvantaged women.”
In his ruling, deGravelles specifically cited the standard set by the Supreme Court’s Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstadt decision last summer, in which the justices found a similar Texas law unconstitutional because the burdens it imposed on women’s ability to seek abortions outweighed any potential health benefits. Supporters had claimed that laws requiring doctors to have admitting privileges ensured that women undergoing abortions would be able to access hospitals during emergencies, but its critics — including some major American medical organizations contended that they were primarily designed to force clinics to close.
In June 2014, when Republican then-Gov. Bobby Jindal signed Act 620 into law, just one of the six Louisiana physicians who then provided abortions had the required admitting privileges. While the lawyers for the abortion clinics quickly secured an order that allowed doctors to keep performing abortions as long as they had applications for privileges pending at nearby hospitals, only one other doctor ever ended up receiving them, according to deGravelles’s ruling.
If Act 620 had gone into effect and left only those two doctors hypothetically able to perform abortions, it would be impossible for them to meet Louisiana’s abortion needs, deGravelles found, since about 10,000 women seek abortions in Louisiana each year.
Without doctors, most of the state’s abortion clinics would have to close, leaving about 70 percent of all women in Louisiana unable to get an abortion in their state, the court found — and that’s ignoring the fact that many women wouldn’t be able to reach a clinic at all due to time, travel, and resources constraints.
And that was in the best case scenario. In reality, Act 620 would have left Louisiana with just one doctor willing to perform abortion, as one of the eligible physicians testified that he would quit for fear of “[becoming] an even greater target for anti-abortion violence” should the act go into full effect. As the last abortion provider in northern Louisiana, the unnamed doctor said, anti-abortion extremists would have had too strong an incentive to “eliminate” him. (And that fear isn’t unfounded: Since 1993, extremists have assassinated four doctors for providing abortions.)
“Courts across the country continue to see through the façade of clinic shutdown laws like Louisiana’s, striking them down one after another,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. Since the Whole Women’s Health decision, similar laws have been struck down in states like Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, according to the Center, which filed the original lawsuit against Louisiana’s law.
The Louisiana District Attorney’s office didn’t immediately return VICE News’s request for comment.
When the lawsuit against Act 620 was first filed in August 2014, Louisiana had five abortion clinics. Since then, two have closed, including one in the past month.