NEW ORLEANS — A state mandate that doctors who provide abortions must have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
In issuing the ruling, District Judge John deGravelles in Baton Rouge decided to keep in place his previous order blocking Louisiana officials from enforcing the mandate. DeGravelles has not yet ruled on the state's abortion law itself, though he heard arguments about it in June while first considering the injunction in connection with a lawsuit still pending in court.
Supporters say the law's provision requiring admitting privileges at area hospitals is meant to protect women's health. Opponents say it's meant to make it essentially impossible for women to get abortions, and would do just that.
DeGravelles said he will meet with attorneys Friday to consider changing his preliminary injunction to a permanent one, along with other matters.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents three clinics and their doctors, responded jubilantly to Tuesday's ruling.
"Today's victory guarantees Louisiana women will continue to have access to critical health care services in the face of relentless political attacks on their health and rights," center President and CEO Nancy Northup said in a news release.
The mandate threatened to close four of Louisiana's five abortion clinics, she said.
Recently elected Attorney General Jeff Landry said he will keep pushing to enforce the state's abortion law and will appeal Tuesday's decision.
"As Attorney General, I am committed to enforcing our state's pro-life and pro-woman laws," he said in a news release. "My office and I will continue to do all we legally can to protect the unborn, their mothers, and all Louisiana women."
Abortion providers who filed the lawsuit did so anonymously, as "John Does," and testified behind a curtain to protect their identities.
Although Louisiana contends that the process of getting admitting privileges has nothing to do with what deGravelles called "the political, religious and social hostility against abortion," the judge said correspondence between "John Doe 2" and a doctor at Tulane Medical Center shows "a very different reality."
The judge said that while Doe 2 was working to get privileges at Tulane, the doctor there — given anonymity as Dr. A — wrote, "This is just ridiculous. I can't believe the state has come to this."
Doe 1's attempts to get admitting privileges at a north Louisiana hospital "reads like a chapter in Franz Kafka's The Trial," the judge wrote.
DeGravelles noted in his ruling that a hospital identified only as "Hospital C" received threatening letters after granting admitting privileges to Doe 5.
The lawsuit contends that Louisiana does not require doctors performing procedures other than abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. "Physicians perform similar, and often higher risk, outpatient procedures in their offices without admitting privileges," it says.
Louisiana's law is among hundreds of abortion restrictions passed across the country in recent years.
The case is one of two high-profile lawsuits deGravelles is hearing that involve clinics for women.
In November, deGravelles issued a temporary injunction stopping Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration from ending Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood clinics in Louisiana until a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood against the state is resolved. The clinics in Baton Rouge and New Orleans provide cancer screenings, birth control and other medical services to about 5,200 low-income Louisiana women but do not perform abortions.
Jindal was a Republican presidential candidate when he said he would cut off the money. He cited hidden-camera videos taken by anti-abortion activists who accused Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue sales after abortions performed at the organization's clinics elsewhere in the nation. Planned Parenthood has denied the allegations, saying the videos are heavily edited and misleading. On Monday, a grand jury in Texas indicted the two anti-abortion activists who made the undercover videos and said the abortion provider committed no wrong.
DeGravelles has not yet heard testimony about the Planned Parenthood case, only about his preliminary injunction. The full case is before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Landry's office will take over that suit as well as the abortion law suit, a statement from Gov. John Bel Edwards' office said late Tuesday. It said Landry's office will supervise private attorneys who had previously been under contract to the state health department.