By SARA CLINE – Associated Press
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Abortion rights advocates hope Louisiana’s near-total ban on the procedure will soon be blocked again after plaintiffs in an pending legal challenge appealed Thursday to the state’s Supreme Court.
Access to abortion in Louisiana has been going back and forth for weeks, with the state’s three clinics depending on court orders and temporary restraining orders to continue operations. Louisiana’s abortion law, which has no exceptions for rape or incest, is currently in effect. However, if the Louisiana Supreme Court sided with the plaintiffs in their appeal, enforcement of the ban will again be blocked.
“We hope the Louisiana Supreme Court will rule that district courts have the power to block unconstitutional criminal laws, including the trigger bans in question,” Joanna Wright, a plaintiffs’ attorney, said in a written statement Thursday afternoon. “Louisiana women must have access to critical and sometimes life-saving health care, and we will continue to challenge the Attorney General’s attempts to undermine that access through unconstitutionally vague statutes. This battle is far from over — we aren’t going anywhere.”
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The back-and-forth battle over the Louisiana ban began in June when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned constitutional protections for abortion. While the plaintiffs do not deny that the state can now ban abortion, they argue that the provisions of the law are contradictory and unconstitutionally vague. The law prohibits all abortions except where there is a significant risk of death or disability for the patient if they continue with the pregnancy and in the case of “medically pointless” pregnancies – when the fetus has a fatal abnormality.
At issue is a legal question as to whether district courts should put their rulings on hold while their decisions are being appealed.
On July 21, Baton Rouge judge Donald Johnson issued a preliminary injunction allowing clinics to continue providing abortions while a lawsuit over the ban is pending.
But proceedings stalled last Friday when an appeals court ruled in favor of Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, granting a “suspensive” appeal, and ordering Johnson to reinstate enforcement of the ban.
After the decision, Wright said it was disappointing that the First Circuit ruled without first giving plaintiffs a chance to object to the motion. She said the court has “essentially eliminated critical health services in the state”.
The plaintiffs are now challenging the appeals court decision in the Louisiana Supreme Court. If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs — which includes an abortion clinic in northern Louisiana — the ban would be blocked for the third time since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
In their appeal against the First Circuit decision, the plaintiffs argue that health care providers do not know what medical care they can provide under the law, and therefore “are forced in tragic cases to choose between potentially illegal behavior or refusing to provide critical health care to their patients with potentially serious consequences.”
The law states that doctors and others who perform abortions can face up to 15 years in prison.
Former Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and 22 state professors filed amicus briefs in support of the plaintiffs’ appeal. The briefs focus on the legal arguments of the filing and not on the “merits in the underlying lawsuit.”
Abortion providers and advocates say every day the ban has been blocked has been extremely valuable. Since Roe v. Wade was quashed, there have been at least 249 abortions in Louisiana, according to Department of Health data.
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