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Testimony: Abortion clinic likely to close if Louisiana law on doctor requirements enforced

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NEW ORLEANS — The medical director of a northwest Louisiana abortion clinic testified Monday that it probably would close if the state is allowed to enforce a law requiring doctors who perform the procedure to be able to admit patients to a hospital within 30 miles of their clinics.

The doctor, testifying behind a black curtain as "John Doe No. 3" told U.S. District Judge John deGravelles that it could leave him the only abortion provider in the state, and "that, I believe, makes me a target.... All they would have to do is eliminate me like they did to Dr. Tiller,"

His reference was to Dr. George Tiller, a Kansas abortion provider shot through the eye and killed by an anti-abortion activist as Tiller ushered at his church in 2009.

"If you were the last abortion provider in North Louisiana, would security still be an issue?" deGravelles asked the doctor, one of two providing abortions at Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport and three in north Louisiana.

"I would be fearful. ... If they eliminate me, they've eliminated abortion in northwest Louisiana," the doctor said. He also said he could not give enough time to the clinic, because he doesn't want to give up his private obstetric and gynecological practice, which he said is the reason he has admitting privileges. He works 70 to 80 hours a week in private practice and 10 to 15 hours a week at Hope, he said, and physically cannot add more hours.

The doctor also said he lost admitting privileges at LSU Medical Center in Shreveport three years ago because he hadn't been admitting many patients there — and women who get abortions rarely need to be hospitalized. He said he knew of only four sent from the clinic to the hospital in the past 20 years.

Kyle Duncan, a Washington attorney representing the state asked about the two hospitals where he now has admitting privileges, and others where he has had them over the years: "Is it fair to say that your providing abortions in the area is not an impediment to your receiving admitting privileges at any of these hospitals?"

"That is correct," the doctor said.

Earlier, Hope administrator Kathaleen Pittman testified that the medical director does about 30 percent of the clinic's abortions, and the doctor who does the rest has not been able to get admitting privileges to nearby hospitals.

She said both doctors have agreements with local hospitals to take patients from Hope in emergencies. She also testified that most patients live closer to hospitals outside Shreveport and would go to those hospitals if they had an emergency after returning home.

DeGravelles has set aside six days for the trial in Baton Rouge.

Duncan said before trial that lawyers for both sides have waived opening and closing statements. DeGravelles has taken other steps to speed the trial, such as letting attorneys make blanket objections to certain types of testimony so they don't have to take time by objecting to each instance.

Louisiana's law is among hundreds of abortion restrictions passed across the country in the past several years. Lawyers for the state of Louisiana say this one was written to protect women. Opponents say it was meant to make it essentially impossible to get abortions.

The judge said he will wait until after the trial to decide whether to throw out claims that the law was passed to keep women from getting abortions. Duncan said that claim was erased by a federal appeals court ruling that largely upheld a Texas law which not only required admitting privileges but also required abortion clinics to meet hospital standards. The 5th Circuit sets law for Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi unless the Supreme Court overturns it.

David Brown, a Center for Reproductive Rights attorney who is working on both the Texas and Louisiana lawsuits, said attorneys will ask the nation's highest court sometime this summer to consider the Texas ruling.

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