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Louisiana Quietly Attempts To Regulate Abortion Clinics Out Of Existence

By Tara Culp-Ressler  

"Louisiana Quietly Attempts To Regulate Abortion Clinics Out Of Existence"

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The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) is currently in process of finalizing new regulations on abortion clinics. The complicated rules, which are more than 20 pages long, could end up closing all five of Louisiana’s abortion clinics — effectively banning the procedure in the state.

DHH first enacted the rules at the end of November, and has scheduled a public hearing for the beginning of February to finalize them. State officials, who likely intended to slip the new regulations under the radar, have already attempted to diffuse media attention. After media outlets began reporting on one provision in the new regulations that would require a 30-day waiting period before women could proceed with an abortion, DHH officials said they would rescind that particular rule.

Even without the proposed waiting period, however, the new regulations still represent an alarming threat to abortion access in Louisiana.

“They rescinded the 30-day requirement after getting so much press attention yesterday, but there are other things in the regulations that need to be addressed as well,” Amy Irvin, a founding board member of the New Orleans Abortion Fund, told ThinkProgress. “Essentially, it’s a complete overhaul of the regulations governing abortion services in Louisiana. They’re medically unnecessary, they’re prohibitively expensive to implement, and it’s going to be nearly impossible for clinics to care for patients.”

For instance, one of the most concerning aspects of the new rules involves a new licensing procedure for clinics. Each abortion clinic will need to apply for a “certificate of need” in order to renovate its facility, to build a new clinic, or even to transfer ownership of a clinic. The state’s health department has complete power over accepting or denying these certificates. Meanwhile, providers will lose the right to appeal potential citations to outside parties. Essentially, DHH is endowed with the ultimate authority over clinics, and could choose to close facilities at whim.

Another new requirement stipulates that an abortion can’t be performed until 24 hours after a woman’s blood work has been processed and entered into her chart. For the clinics that don’t have the capacity to do blood work, and typically send out samples to be analyzed elsewhere, that will ultimately require them to delay abortion procedures.

Ellie Schilling, a New Orleans attorney representing the state’s clinics, told the Nation that the new requirements were introduced extremely secretively. “What it amounts to is a back-door abortion ban,” Schilling noted. “The public definitely doesn’t know what’s going on.”

The abortion providers in the state are now attempting to change that. “Once ally organizations realized how crazy and ridiculous these regulations are, we started to put the word out,” Irvin explained to ThinkProgress. “Even if the regulations close just one or two clinics, it will drastically affect women in the community.”

The situation in the Gulf Coast isn’t unique. Across the country, lawmakers are specifically targeting abortion clinics for closure, enacting medically unnecessary regulations intended to force them out of business. These type of restrictions often fly under the radar because they don’t seem outrageous on the surface. They’re often disguised in terms of new building codes that force clinics to upgrade their water fountains, widen their hallways, and enlarge their parking lots. These laws are gaining political momentum — indeed, Louisiana’s new regulations appear to use boilerplate language that’s modeled after similar regulations in other states — and they have forced an increasing number of clinics to close over the past several years.

The impact that this type of legislation has on women’s health and safety is well-documented. In Texas, where state lawmakers recently enacted sweeping abortion restrictions that are forcing dozens of clinics to close, low-income women are resorting to desperate measures to end unwanted pregnancies. Abortion providers report that an increasing number of women are crossing the border to Mexico to buy illegal abortion-inducing drugs on the black market. Under the new state law, an estimated 22,000 Texans will lack access to safe and legal abortion services this year.

Irvin is already starting to see the same thing happen in Louisiana. “There’s anecdotal evidence that even here in New Orleans, people are selling pills on the street — they’re telling women it’s the abortion pill, but who’s to say if that’s really what it is,” she said. “There’s already starting to be this black market. It’s very scary… Women are saying that if the clinic is closed, they’ll resort to illegal means or home remedies.”

And if more clinics close in Louisiana, it will ultimately end up affecting women who live beyond the state’s borders. Irvin’s organization, which is one of nearly 100 local affiliates of the National Network of Abortion Funds, serves the broader Gulf Coast area. Since Louisiana is surrounded by some of the states that have enacted the harshest abortion laws in the nation — like Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — many women in the region turn to the clinics in the New Orleans area.

“Already, we’re seeing women having to come from other parts of the country,” Irvin noted. “We already get calls from women in Mississippi, who choose to come here instead of going to the clinic in Jackson. Certainly after what happened in Texas, clinics here started receiving calls from women in Texas.”

The new rules are coming on top of a host of abortion restrictions that Louisiana has already implemented. The state currently has a 24-hour waiting period, mandatory counseling and ultrasound laws, a parental consent requirement, and a 20-week abortion ban. Clinics are already navigating significant red tape — including directing each patient to a state website entitled “Women’s Right To Know” that includes biased information about abortion alternatives and advertises crisis pregnancy centers.

Nonetheless, this may only be the beginning of several upcoming attacks on reproductive rights in Louisiana. The state’s legislative session starts in March, and Irvin is worried about the new bills that may be coming down the pipeline. “We anticipate the same laws that were proposed and passed in Texas,” she said, ” and women are already under siege.”

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