In 1973, abortion became a constitutionally protected right in the United States. But, judging from the repeated full-fledged attacks on Roe v. Wade and all the protections it provides, it's as if the anti-choice movement has been plugging their ears and singing, “La la la, I can’t hear you!” for the last forty-one years. Unfortunately, its members have proven themselves to be good at multitasking, stirring up trouble while their fingers are still in their ears.
Louisiana joins a growing list of states attempting to curtail abortion access in the guise of protecting women’s health. H.B. 388, or the Louisiana Omnibus Abortion Bill, requires physicians to have admitting privileges (the right to admit and treat a patient) at a hospital no more than 30 miles away from where the abortion is obtained. It can take anywhere from ninety days to seven months to process a doctor’s admitting privilege application, and there’s no guarantee the privilege will be granted.
Signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal in June, it’s scheduled to take effect on September 1. On behalf of Louisiana healthcare providers, the law firm Morrison & Foerster, along with the Center for Reproductive Rights, filed a lawsuit on August 22 to challenge H.B. 388. If upheld, the Louisiana law will force the shutdown of three of the state’s five abortion clinics, creating a dangerous situation for women living in a state that is already seeing dwindling access to safe abortions.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 92 percent of the counties in Louisiana do not even have an abortion provider; 63 percent of women live in one these counties. Women living in the Bayou State are also forced to receive state counseling designed to discourage them from having the procedure, and then must wait another twenty-four hours before being able to obtain the procedure; sometimes this requires two trips to a clinic, which can be near impossible if she just traveled hundreds of miles just to get there. Louisiana also requires women to have an ultrasound before having an abortion, an unnecessary and invasive procedure. Abortion rights have long been under attack in Louisiana, and H.B. 388 just adds to the list of restrictive abortion laws in the state.
Doctors and medical experts, like those belonging to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), argue that there is no medical justification for admitting privilege requirements. Abortions are extremely safe procedures; the risk of death is higher for a colonoscopy, according to physician Hal Lawrence, an ob-gyn and executive vice president of ACOG, yet no legislation has been introduced mandating that doctors performing that particular outpatient procedure obtain admitting privileges beforehand. Lawrence made his remarks to reporters on a conference call convened by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America on August 26.
Should the Louisiana law pass muster with the courts, dwindling access to safe and legal abortion will likely leave many women with few options other than drastic measures. These can range from traveling across state lines to obtain an abortion to trying to induce an abortion themselves, an unsafe and sometimes deadly option.
Five states have similar laws in effect, but a recent minor victory for reproductive rights in Alabama shines some light on how the case in Louisiana could play out. There, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled that the Alabama's Women's Health and Safety Act is unconstitutional because it would force three of the state’s five abortion clinics to close—precisely the same fate facing Louisiana providers—causing an undue burden on women seeking to get an abortion.
Proponents of laws demanding further credentialing of abortion providers—such as those that demand hospital admitting privilege—claim that their purpose is patient care and the wellness of women, but with medical experts finding no medical reason to require an abortion-clinic physician to have admitting privileges, it seems as if their real purpose is to restrict access to abortion. It’s important to note that closing abortion clinics will likely do little to reduce the number of abortions, just the number of safe ones. If anti-choice activists and elected officials in Louisiana truly cared about women’s health they would spend more time pushing for policies that could actually reduce the abortion rate, such as comprehensive sex education, expanding access to contraception, and support for low-income families.
Louisiana is just the latest state to become a battleground in the fight for reproductive justice. If H.B. 388 goes into effect, a woman seeking an abortion in Louisiana will face a multitude of hurdles and hardships when attempting to exercise her constitutionally protected reproductive rights.