September 27, 2018 / 4:56 AM / 20 days ago

U.S. court upholds Louisiana restriction on abortion clinics

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday upheld a Louisiana provision that requires doctors who perform abortions in the state to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

In a 2-1 ruling from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, the judges said the Louisiana provision was different than one in Texas that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 because it would not put an undue burden on women.

“There is no evidence that any of the clinics will close as a result of the Act,” the appeals court said in its ruling.

The Texas law, whose language is similar to the Louisiana law, led to the closure of the majority of the state’s abortion clinics and the number of women forced to drive over 150 miles to seek abortions increased by 350 percent, the appeals court said.

The plaintiffs in the Louisiana suit, which included abortion provider Hope Medical Group for Women, were not immediately available for comment. The defendant, the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, was also not available for comment.

Abortion has been a central issue in the U.S. Senate confirmation process for President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Abortion rights advocates worry that Kavanaugh, whose judicial record on abortion cases is thin, could change the balance on the court in favor of more restrictions, or even help overturn the court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Some states are passing restrictive abortion laws, which they expect could be challenged in court but hope might ultimately win favor from a conservative Supreme Court.

DISSENT OVER UNDUE BURDEN TEST

The admitting privileges act in Louisiana has the same language as the one in Texas, which requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (50 km) of their clinic. Supporters say the provision helps protect women by providing continuity of care.

Medical groups and abortion providers contend the requirement is unnecessary because complications from abortions are rare, and when they do occur, emergency room medical staff are well equipped to provide care.

They also said the provision is designed to shutter clinics, which is what happened in Texas.

In Texas, before the state’s 2013 law went into effect, there were about 40 licensed abortion facilities in the state, which has a population of about 27 million. After it went into effect, that number dropped to eight, the appeals court said.

The two judges who upheld the provision, both appointed by Republican presidents, ruled that the Louisiana law, “does not impose a substantial burden on a large fraction of women.” They said that only 30 percent of women seeking an abortion would face a potential burden of increased wait times.

In his dissent, Judge Patrick Higginbotham, also a Republican appointee, said the panel failed to meaningfully apply the undue burden test as articulated by the Supreme Court.

In a 5-3 decision written by Justice Stephen Breyer in 2016, the Supreme Court concluded the Texas law violated a woman’s right to an abortion and did not offer medical benefits sufficient to justify its existence.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler

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