Judge: Louisiana Can't Enforce Abortion Law During Appeal

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Louisiana cannot enforce an abortion law while appealing his pretrial order against it.

         U.S. District Judge John deGravelles made the decision in a lawsuit brought by three abortion clinics and their doctors.

         Lawyers for the state immediately asked the federal appeals court in New Orleans for an emergency order to overrule him and overturn his January preliminary ruling that the law is unconstitutional.

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         Under the law, doctors who perform abortions must be able to admit patients to a hospital within 30 miles. Supporters say it's intended to protect women. Opponents say it would close four of Louisiana's five clinics.

         DeGravelles said Louisiana's ultimate chance of winning the suit is too low compared with the harm enforcement would cause the clinics and women who want abortions.

         The state asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to act by 5 p.m. Feb. 26, saying deGravelles' ruling "flatly" goes against 5th Circuit rulings in two cases that upheld an identical Texas law.

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         According to the state's motion, deGravelles ignored the fact that 90 percent of Louisiana women would still live within 150 miles of an abortion provider and used calculations of his "own invention" to find that the law would deny abortions to 55 to 70 percent of Louisiana women who want them.

         DeGravelles used the number of abortions performed by each doctor and the likely effect of forcing those doctors to stop. In Tuesday's 30-page ruling, he rejected state arguments that he should instead have used distance from a clinic as his measurement.

         Although recent 5th Circuit rulings considered distance, they "do not hold or suggest that this is the only way that undue burden can be measured," he wrote.

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         He said at least four of the six doctors performing abortions in Louisiana would be unable to do so under the law, and one of the others could do so only at one of the two clinics where he now works.

         "Further, no fewer than three of Louisiana's five abortion facilities would be left without any provider and therefore would likely close," he wrote. "This would leave, at most, two facilities with half their normal staff of physicians to serve the entire state which, the evidence showed, could not be done."

         Opponents of the law praised deGravelles' decision.

         "Today's ruling continues to guarantee Louisiana women will have access to safe and legal abortion services," said Ilene Jaroslaw, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "We are confident courts across the country will continue to see through the pretense of these measures and strike them down as unconstitutional."

         – by AP Reporter Janet McConnaughey



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