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Federal appeals court upholds Louisiana restriction on abortion clinics

The 5th Circuit upheld a law similar to one the Supreme Court struck down in Texas two years ago.

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

A U.S. appeals court upheld a Louisiana law that requires doctors who perform abortions in a free-standing clinic to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, despite its resemblance to a Texas law that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016. Opponents say the law could limit abortions to just one provider.

In a 2-1 ruling, judges with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans (a circuit that has only gotten more conservative under President Donald Trump) argued that the Louisiana law does not impose the same “substantial burden” on abortion seekers as the Texas law.

By striking down Texas’ admitting privileges law in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court resolved some certainty around the “undue burden” standard. Albeit, there is still continued judicial discretion, thus, underscoring the importance of retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s replacement as he was often the critical swing vote in abortion cases.

“Unlike in Texas,” the majority ruled, according to Courthouse News Service, “the Act does not impose a substantial burden on a large fraction of women.”

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“Almost all Texas hospitals required that for a doctor to maintain privileges there, he or she had to admit a minimum number of patients annually,” said Judge Jerry E. Smith, a Reagan-appointed judge, in the opinion joined by Judge Edith Brown Clement, a Bush-appointed judge. “Few Louisiana hospitals made that demand.”

The ruling estimates less than 30 percent of Louisianans will be affected and, at worst, one doctor at one clinic will be forced to stop performing abortions.

Anti-abortion activists say admitting privileges are necessary for safety. But such a law isn’t necessary because, if a patient really needs to go to a hospital, any doctor — any person — can bring them to an emergency room. Moreover, abortion is safe. Indeed, as ThinkProgress’ Casey Quinlan points out “you’re less likely to stay overnight in the hospital for abortion than wisdom teeth removal.”