Louisiana’s Abortion Clinics Reopen After Legal Win

"Every day, and every hour, is of critical importance to patients and providers in Louisiana right now,” the plaintiffs' attorney told Jezebel.

Louisiana’s Abortion Clinics Reopen After Legal Win
Shayla, who has made the five-hour drive from Texas to Louisiana twice, sits in the waiting room of the Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, Louisiana, April 19, 2022. (Photo by FRANCOIS PICARD/AFP via Getty Images) Photo:Getty (Getty Images)

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, the Hope Medical Group for Women abortion clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana, had to immediately cancel roughly 50 procedures scheduled for the weekend. Louisiana is one of 13 states with “trigger bans” on the books designed to criminalize or severely restrict abortions the moment Roe was gone.

Today, after a big legal win, abortion procedures at the Shreveport clinic resumed.

Louisiana actually had three different trigger bans in place, and lawyers claimed that they were too vague and confusing to be allowed to go into effect immediately. Reproductive rights attorney Ellie Schilling and the Center for Reproductive Rights had filed a petition seeking emergency relief on behalf of the Shreveport clinic, and on Monday, a judge granted them a temporary restraining order to block enforcement of the laws. The attorneys successfully argued that the trigger bans are “unconstitutionally vague” and therefore “violate due process.”

Schilling told Jezebel that in addition to Hope resuming services today, the other two clinics in Louisiana “are scheduling appointments and will resume providing procedures as soon as feasible in coming days.”

“It cannot be overstated the extent to which every day, and every hour, is of critical importance to patients and providers in Louisiana right now,” she told me in an email. “Any amount of time that goes by when these bans are being enforced deprives patients access to care that they can never get back. Clinics were already overburdened, and patients were already suffering from extreme constraints with gestational age bans, travel, child care, and time off from work. That’s why we worked tirelessly to file for a temporary restraining order to block these unjustifiable bans, and it’s why we will continue fighting no matter the obstacles.”

Hope’s administrator, Kathaleen Pittman, said the clinic has already been able to reschedule some of the canceled appointments from last week.

Attorneys for Pittman and the other plaintiffs in the case argued that Louisiana’s multiple trigger laws make it “impossible” to understand what conduct the Trigger bans prohibit, when they are in effect, which of the three bans is in effect, and what the exceptions are for doctors performing procedures to save a pregnant person’s life.

State Rep. Mandie Landry (D-New Orleans) told Jezebel that other states’ trigger laws are often more explicit with the details, stating, for example, that should Roe be overturned, the ban would go into effect within 10 days. “They are usually pretty fleshed out about what’s going to happen,” Landry said in a phone interview. “Ours are not.”

“Louisiana has more abortion laws than any state,” noted Landry, who’s running for state senate. She explained the two most recent trigger bans were “intended to clean up old language, but they only made it more confusing.” Before Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards signed the bill into law last Tuesday, Landry opposed the legislation on the Louisiana House floor. Among other issues, she said the legislation is medically inaccurate. “It says pregnancy happens at fertilization and implantation, which medically is just two different things.”

The attorneys for the abortion providers argue that in addition to being unclear at what gestational age abortion is banned, the three trigger bans also have different penalty provisions and don’t provide enough specifics about what exceptions exist for birthing people.

Landry says she’s not sure how the state is going to respond in the next few days, but with everything she knows about Louisiana’s Republican Attorney General, Jeff Landry (no relation), she thinks things will move quickly. “They were probably caught a little off guard with their big win on Friday,” says Landry.

AG Jeff Landry said in a statement Monday: “It is unfortunate that there are those who continue to utilize confusion, misinformation, and deceit as scare tactics in the face of the recent SCOTUS Dobbs decision.”

Judge Robin Giarrusso, who issued the temporary restraining order, set the next court date for 10 a.m. on July 8, when the state and the attorneys for the abortion providers can argue about the ambiguity of the trigger bans. This block on the ban was the first of multiple state-level lawsuits filed by abortion providers in the aftermath of Dobbs.

Abortion rights advocates and lawyers agree that the temporary restraining order is just a brief reprieve, but they are grateful for the fleeting care it brings to birthing people in the state. In addition to providing abortions for people who need care as soon as possible, the clinics will offer practical support to people looking to schedule appointments in the next few weeks. State Rep. Landry said providers can tell patients “they should really make an appointment in another state with the understanding that if they make one in Louisiana, they may not be able to keep the appointment.”

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