The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) revised its abortion clinic licensing standards, and the new regulations could severely restrict access to legal abortion care throughout the state.
The department claims that it was responding to legislative mandates. Some of the changes in the regulations, however, go beyond the scope of legislation approved by the Republican-dominated Louisiana legislature. These include lengthy and complicated licensing requirements.
The DHH’s proposed changes, announced in December, sparked a firestorm of criticism, and thousands of public comments were made opposing the changes. Dozens of reproductive rights advocates spoke out against the proposed changes at a public hearing in January.
Ellie Schilling, a New Orleans attorney representing abortion clinics, said at the hearing that the state was singling out abortion clinics for burdensome regulations. “No other outpatient facility in the state is regulated in such a way,” Schilling said, reported the Shreveport Times.
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The DHH last week published the 23-page final draft of revisions to the clinic regulations, which took effect April 20 and largely ignore, advocates said, suggestions made by women’s health supporters that the regulations rely on science, not be based in politics.
“Abortion today is safe, but it will only stay that way if it remains legal and accessible,” Melissa Flournoy, director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s Louisiana, said in a statement. “We’re deeply disappointed that our call for regulations based on medicine were ignored, and the Jindal Administration has instead decided to risk patient health and safety by imposing further restrictions on a woman’s ability to have a safe, legal abortion in Louisiana.”
The revisions were in response to HB 388, which was signed into law by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2014. The bill, modeled after a Texas law that has forced several clinics to close there, amended state law to impose a spate of new requirements for facilities that provide abortion services.
The new regulations include a requirement for providers to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic in which they perform abortions; a forced 24-hour waiting period on surgical abortions; and the number of abortions a doctor must perform in a given year to be considered an abortion provider were greatly reduced.
“There are clear health risks associated with an abortion that could require urgent medical attention. Therefore, it is crucial for providers of abortions in Louisiana to meet any requirements outlined by the Louisiana Legislature and promulgated by the department,” DHH spokeswoman Ashley Lewis said in a statement.
Proponents of HB 388 have often stated when defending the regulations that they aim to protect women’s health and safety, despite overwhelming evidence that abortion is already safe and highly regulated in the United States.
Access to legal abortion care in Louisiana is already highly restricted. Women seeking an abortion in the state must receive state-directed counseling and a forced ultrasound, and minors seeking an abortion are forced to obtain parental consent.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association oppose requiring admitting privileges for abortion providers, finding “there is no medical basis to require abortion providers to have local hospital admitting privileges.”
Republican state Rep. Mike Johnson, who also serves as the legal counsel for Louisiana Right to Life Federation, took issue with the characterization of the new regulations as being politically motivated.
“The state department of health does not have a stake in the game. They’re not advocating for a pro-life position, they’re advocating for public health,” Johnson told the Shreveport Times.