Judge extends order allowing abortion clinics to stay open amid legal battle over La. trigger laws
With access to abortion flickering in Louisiana, the legal battle over the statewide ban continued in court Monday morning.
The hearing at the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge ended with no decision after about an hour, drawing out the process for at least another day as both sides submit additional materials to Judge Don Johnson. A temporary restraining order will stay in effect pending further proceedings, allowing abortion clinics to stay open for the time being.
Judge Johnson formally extended the temporary restraining order on Tuesday, allowing clinics to stay open. The order will expire after 10 days or when the court makes a ruling in the case.
Louisiana’s anti-abortion law has “trigger language” that was designed to make it effective immediately after the Supreme Court overturned the key 1973 Roe v Wade decision legalizing abortion. Abortion supporters including one of the three clinics still operating in the state have fought the law in repeated court appearances and so far won two temporary injunctions allowing abortions to continue while the legal battles continue.
However, given the state’s strong opposition to abortion coupled with a legislature that has shown time and time again that it has the votes necessary to approve anti-abortion legislation, the legal battles appear likely to be more a matter of buying time than a pathway to permanently protecting abortion rights in the state.
In the latest legal development, State District Judge Donald Johnson issued a temporary order last week blocking enforcement pending the hearing in a lawsuit that claims the state law is unconstitutionally vague. Attorneys for a north Louisiana abortion clinic and other supporters of legal abortion want Johnson to keep blocking enforcement as their lawsuit plays out.
“The courts are an extremely important avenue for this fight,” Joanna Wright, an attorney for the north Louisiana clinic that is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, said last week. “I think that this is a national moment and a national dialogue and the courts are one way that we are having that dialogue.”
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office argued that the state ban is constitutional and should no longer be blocked.
Johnson’s order last week freed Louisiana’s three abortion clinics, in Shreveport, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, to resume operations. One, Hope Medical Group for Women clinic in Shreveport, said it would continue abortion procedures. A spokeswoman for the two others said the clinics are open but would not schedule new patients until after Monday’s hearing.
In the suit, which originated in New Orleans, plaintiffs don’t deny that the state can now ban abortion. But they contend that Louisiana now has multiple, conflicting trigger mechanisms in the law. They also argue that the state law is unclear on whether it bans an abortion prior to a fertilized egg implanting in the uterus.
And while the law provides an exception for “medically futile” pregnancies in cases of fetuses with fatal abnormalities, the plaintiffs note it gives no definition of the term and that state health officials haven’t yet provided a list of conditions that would qualify.
Landry, in a filing last week, argued that the law “needs only to delineate what is illegal — not define what is legal.”
“The rule of law must be followed, and I will not rest until it is,” Landry recently tweeted.
A New Orleans judge issued a temporary order blocking enforcement of the ban June 27, but nearly two weeks later, a second New Orleans judge sent the case to Baton Rouge, saying state law required that it be heard in the capital.
Johnson issued a second temporary restraining order July 11.
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