As the battleground over abortion rights shifted Monday to courthouses around the country, Louisiana took center stage when a New Orleans judge temporarily blocked enforcement of a “trigger law” banning abortions and the state’s three clinics announced they would resume procedures in the coming days.
The clinics in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport shut their doors on Friday after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ending the constitutional protection for abortion and opening the gates for a wave of litigation from all sides.
The high court’s ruling paved the way for Louisiana to immediately enact a dormant set of laws banning both surgical and medication abortions, without exception for cases of rape or incest. Similar trigger laws were adopted in 13 states in anticipation of the ruling and were designed to take effect swiftly.
Abortion providers and advocates on Monday sued the state in Orleans Parish Civil District Court, arguing that the overlapping web of trigger laws was “unconstitutionally vague.” Hours later, Judge Robin Giarrusso, a Democrat first elected to the bench in 1988, issued a temporary restraining order, barring the state from enforcing its ban.
Clinics reopen doors
In response to the order, the clinics said they will reopen their doors. They “plan to resume providing the procedures as soon as possible,” according to Ellie Schilling, the lead lawyer in the lawsuit.
Judge Ethel Simms Julien, also a Democrat, will hold a hearing on the preliminary injunction July 8.
The plaintiffs in the case include the Hope Medical Group for Women, which operates the Shreveport clinic, as well as the New Orleans chapter of the nonprofit Medical Students for Choice. The lawsuit argues that New Orleans is the proper jurisdiction for the case because that’s where the nonprofit, comprised of medical students from Tulane University and LSU, operates.
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The petition names as defendants Attorney General Jeff Landry, a staunch opponent of abortion, and Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Courtney Phillips. Landry, a Republican, vowed to fight the judge’s ruling and enforce the law.
“We would remind everyone that the laws that are now in place were enacted by the people through State Constitutional Amendments and the LA Legislature, which the citizens elect representatives,” Landry tweeted Monday. “We are fully prepared to defend these laws in our state courts, just as we have in our federal courts.”
Web of trigger laws
Louisiana passed its first trigger law in 2006 under then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Another piece of legislation, signed last week by Gov. John Bel Edwards, sought to clarify that statute and clear up some of the inconsistencies in anti-abortion laws passed during the past decade. But the plaintiffs say it’s only muddied the waters.
Under one part of the law, anyone found guilty of performing an abortion could face up to 10 years in prison. Those found guilty of performing late-term abortions, defined as taking place at 15 weeks of gestation or later, would face up to 15 years if convicted. But a portion of the 2006 law says that anyone performing abortions will be subject to a maximum of two years in prison.
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The lawsuit also argues the state’s trigger laws are vague and fail to outline “constitutionally guaranteed notice of exactly what conduct is prohibited, if any, and when.” It notes, for example, that the statutes permit abortions for medically futile pregnancies. But the list of what is considered “medically futile” has not yet been promulgated by the Louisiana Department of Health, as required.
The suit also claims that the statutes conflict on whether abortion is prohibited after fertilization or implantation.
Benjamin Clapper, the executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, said he’s confident that appellate courts will allow the ban to proceed.
“While these matters are still developing, Louisiana law is clear that babies will be protected from abortion when Roe v. Wade is overturned,” he wrote. “We are confident that our courts, whether at the district, appellate, or state Supreme Court level, will affirm our laws in time.”
26 states are poised to ban abortions or restrict access to them
‘Years of legislative and judicial challenges’
Also Monday, abortion rights advocates asked a Florida judge to block a new law there that bans the procedure after 15 weeks with some exceptions and is set to take effect this week. And a hearing was scheduled for Monday afternoon in Utah, where Planned Parenthood challenged a trigger law there that contains narrow exceptions.
Abortion rights activists also went to court to try to fend off restrictions in Texas, Idaho, Kentucky and Mississippi, the state at the center of the Supreme Court ruling, while the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona filed an emergency motion there on Saturday seeking to block a 2021 law they worry can be used to halt all abortions.
In Friday’s ruling, the Supreme Court left it to the states to decide whether to allow abortion.
“The expectation is that this will result in years of legislative and judicial challenges,” said Jonathan Turley, a professor at the George Washington University law school.
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As of Saturday, abortion services had stopped in at least 11 states — either because of state laws or confusion over them.
In some cases, the lawsuits may only buy time. Even if courts block some restrictions from taking hold, lawmakers in many conservative states could move quickly to address any flaws cited.
That’s likely to be the case in Louisiana.
Around the country, challenges to other trigger laws could be made on the grounds that the conditions to impose the bans have not been met, or that it was improper for a past legislature to bind the current one.
Laura Herner, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, said other challenges might call into question whether state laws sufficiently and clearly allow for exceptions to protect the life or health of a pregnant woman.
Associated Press reporters KEVIN McGILL, AMY FORLITI and GEOFF MULVIHILL contributed to this report