Louisiana abortion ban takes effect again after judge sends case to Baton Rouge courtroom
In a hearing Friday over Louisiana's trigger laws that would ban most abortions, a judge in New Orleans declined to extend a temporary restraining order against the ban that had taken effect immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, only to be halted by a lawsuit filed by a state abortion clinic.
Staff at all three abortion clinics in the state — one each in Shreveport, New Orleans and Baton Rouge — said they stopped providing the procedure Friday. The clinics in New Orleans and Baton Rouge didn’t schedule any patients in anticipation of the hearing, while the Shreveport clinic halted abortions as soon as the decision came.
Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Ethel Simms Julien also found the case had been filed in the wrong jurisdiction, and transferred the case to East Baton Rouge Parish.
State law requires that suits against the state, a state agency or officer conducting their official duties must be filed in the state capitol, Julien said. In this lawsuit, Attorney General Jeff Landry and the Louisiana Department of Health were the named defendants, and the plaintiff was the Hope Medical Group for Women, an abortion clinic in Shreveport.
"The venue provisions and the case law does require the action be brought in East Baton Rouge Parish," Julien said.
The lawsuit heard in court on Friday was filed just days after Roe v. Wade was overturned, and was followed by New Orleans District Court Judge Robin Giarrusso issuing the temporary restraining order on the state's restrictive trigger laws that ban nearly all abortions, except for when the patient's life is at risk or the fetus won't survive.
The plaintiffs called the laws "unconstitutionally vague" and argued the language made it unclear when the ban would take effect in a person's pregnancy.
In court filings, Landry dismissed abortion rights groups’ claims that the wording of three of the state’s trigger laws, and amounted their concerns to quibbling. The Republican attorney general tried to block the hearing from happening Friday by requesting the state Supreme Court to lift the restraining order on the trigger laws, but they rejected his request.
The attorney general and his allies in the anti-abortion rights movement have repeatedly accused the plaintiffs in the case of "venue shopping" by filing their challenge in Orleans Parish, where elected judges are more likely to look favorably on arguments of abortion rights groups. He called the lawsuit a “traveling legal circus” and added that the state’s law banning nearly all abortion is “absolutely enforceable today.”
Landry said the people of Louisiana, through the state legislature has repeatedly worked to limit and ban abortions in the state, “so that the state of Louisiana would respect its children before themselves.” He called on abortion providers to “respect the legislature, and Louisiana's constitution.”
“And if you don't like Louisiana's laws, or Louisiana's constitution, you can go to another state,” Landry said.
The case will now transfer to the 19th Judicial District Court in East Baton Rouge Parish, the usual venue for any legal challenges against the state.
For the plaintiffs in the case, Friday’s ruling is a procedural setback that will prolong a legal battle that they are ultimately unlikely to win. While the specifics of Louisiana’s overlapping trigger laws may be unclear, state lawmakers have expressed their unequivocal support for an abortion ban that would prohibit the procedure in the earliest stages of a pregnancy in nearly all cases — even if they would have to pass more legislation to do so.
In a press conference shortly after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health last month, Julie Rickelman, a top attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said her organization would continue to fight trigger laws like Louisiana’s despite the long odds.
“In the days ahead, the Center will work with our clients, our partners and our allies, as we have done for many years, to preserve access where we can for as long as possible — even if that means in some places only a few weeks or months,” Rickelman said.
Kathaleen Pittman, the administrator of Hope Medical Group for Women, said they’d seek another temporary restraining order from an East Baton Rouge court.
“We're still letting patients come in if they choose to get their ultrasounds done,” Pittman said, so the clinic can help women find abortion clinics out of state.
The fallout from overturning Roe is just beginning.— Rosemary Westwood (@rosiewestwood) June 28, 2022
But if you need grounding right now and an answer to how we got here, listen to Banned. All 7 episodes are out. A bonus EP is coming.
tl;dr: Roe is just a first step for anti-abortion activists.https://t.co/ZXMv60I1cI pic.twitter.com/Br5TEmE9z4
In a statement, Lift Louisiana said it was “disheartened” by the judge’s ruling.
“The trigger laws have been vague from the beginning, and that ambiguity clearly places pregnant people’s lives at risk and paralyzes doctors from making critical care decisions,” it said in a statement.
Digital Editor Katelyn Umholtz contributed to this report.