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New plea to protect Louisiana abortion clinics (UPDATED)

UPDATE Tuesday 10:34 a.m.    Justice Thomas has asked state officials in Louisiana to file a response to this application (15A880) by 3 p.m. tomorrow, March 2.


Less than a week before the Supreme Court reopens the constitutional question of abortion rights, clinics and doctors in Louisiana on Friday began an effort in the Court to protect the remaining clinics in that state against a threat that three of the four will have to close, leaving the state with one doctor legally able to provide the service.  The new application (June Medical Services v. Gee) seeks to block a 2014 state law that requires doctors to have patient-admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of their abortion clinic.

That law is identical to a Texas law that the Court will be examining next Wednesday, in the first full review of an abortion case in nine years.  Also at issue in the Texas case is another law, requiring abortion clinics to have the same facilities as a fully functioning surgical center, a costly upgrade that the clinics argue is unnecessary for medical reasons.  (That case is Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.)

The Court probably will have to act on the new Louisiana challenge before it gets very deeply into its review of the Texas laws, because the Louisiana law has already led to the closing of two of the remaining clinics, and could lead to closing a third.  If that happens, Louisiana would be like Mississippi — that is, with only one clinic left to serve the entire state.  The Mississippi clinic has been spared by a lower court in another case involving a doctors’ admitting privileges law, but state officials are contesting that in a case that the Supreme Court has not yet considered; the case is on hold.

The Louisiana law went into effect for the first time on Thursday, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit cleared the way for its enforcement.  Almost immediately, clinics in Baton Rouge and Bossier City stopped all procedures, and referred patients to clinics in Shreveport and New Orleans.  If the new law remains in effect, the Shreveport facility is also expected to close, according to lawyers involved.   Only the clinic in New Orleans, and only  one doctor there, can comply with the law.

As a result of the Fifth Circuit’s action, attorneys for the providers told the Court, ‘”all but two doctors have been forced to stop providing abortions,” and one of those “will shortly be forced to cease. . . ..  One physician cannot possibly provide all abortions in Louisiana.”  The result, the application added, will be “a continued increase in later-term abortions and in women turning to dangerous and illegal methods of abortion.”

Once closed, a clinic “will likely never reopen,” even if the admitting privileges requirement is ultimately struck down, it said.

The application urged the Court to put back into effect a federal trial judge’s order barring enforcement of the requirement.  In addition, the Court was asked to temporarily restore that order while the Justices take the time needed to review more fully the application.

The application was filed with Justice Clarence Thomas, who handles emergency legal matters from the geographic area that is the Fifth Circuit, which includes Louisiana and also Texas.  Thomas has the option of acting on the application alone, or sharing it with his colleagues — which is the more common practice.  If the full Court acts on the application, it will take the votes of five of the present eight Justices to grant it and thus block the law temporarily while an appeal moves ahead.

If normal procedures are followed, Justice Thomas will seek a response from Louisiana before he or the full Court acts on the request.


Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, New plea to protect Louisiana abortion clinics (UPDATED), SCOTUSblog (Feb. 26, 2016, 8:27 PM),