Louisiana Law Closing Abortion Centers Heads to Court

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 7, 2011   |   8:50PM   |   Baton Rouge, LA

A Louisiana law that has been used to close abortion centers in the state is now heading to a federal appeals court. The Louisiana health department has been acting under a new law that gives it more authority to close abortion centers that violate state health and safety standards.

Tomorrow, Alliance Defense Fund Senior Counsel Steven Aden will present oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in Choice v. Greenstein. Aden will assist co-counsel for the Louisiana Secretary of Health in arguing to uphold a district court decision that threw out the lawsuit, which was filed by abortion clinics that oppose a state law requiring them to meet certain patient health and safety regulations.

“A woman’s health and safety should always be the most important concern in cases like this, and that is the paramount concern of state health officials,” Aden said. “The district court was right to reject this challenge to basic health and safety regulations, and we are hopeful the appeals court will uphold the ruling.”

In November of last year, abortion clinics represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights filed suit against Act 490, Louisiana’s Outpatient Abortion Facility Licensing Law enacted in June 2010. They appealed to the 5th Circuit after the district court dismissed the lawsuit on multiple grounds.

The law states that Louisiana’s secretary of health “may deny a license, may refuse to renew a license, or may revoke an existing license, if an investigation or survey determines that the application or license is in violation of any provision” of the regulations governing outpatient abortion facilities “or in violation of any federal or state law or regulation.” The law also allows the Department of Health to immediately suspend a license if “the violation[s] pose an imminent or immediate threat to the health, welfare, or safety of a client or patient.”

In its ruling dismissing the lawsuit, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana wrote, “The Court finds that the Plaintiffs will not suffer any significant hardship. Plaintiffs claim that they will suffer severe hardship because they will be required to make ‘immediate and significant, but unascertainable, changes in their operations.’ However, nothing in Act 490 requires Plaintiffs to alter their conduct; instead, it alters the State’s conduct in detecting and addressing violations.”

In September, Louisiana state health officials closed for good the Gentilly Medical Clinic for Women abortion business after it failed to respond to actions the state took to revoke its medical license for repeated violations.

Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein issued the order closing the abortion clinic after initially revoking its medical license on May 25 after a probe found repeated health and safety violations putting women’s health at risk. That was the second order the clinics received — the first one coming in January 2010 for failing to follow basic medical laws.

Officials told AP the appeal of the January 2010 order was moving ahead when another inspection found additional violations that led to the May order. Because the Gentilly Medical Clinic did not appeal the May order, DHH spokeswoman Lisa Faust said the abortion center now has “no legal recourse” to avoid shutting down.