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Louisiana AG asks state Supreme Court to reinstate abortion ban before July 8 hearing

The Hope Medical Group for Women abortion clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Center for Reproductive Rights
The Hope Medical Group for Women abortion clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Over the holiday weekend, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry asked the state Supreme Court to lift a lower court’s temporary restraining order that is blocking the “trigger laws” that would impose a near-absolute ban on the procedure in the state.

Landry’s request comes days after abortion-rights groups and the Shreveport-based abortion clinic Hope Medical Group for Women sued the state, saying the dozens of abortion restrictions that took effect immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade were “unconstitutionally vague” and made it impossible to tell how doctors could legally perform abortions under the law’s few exceptions — only for those pregnant people whose lives are at risk and none for victims of rape or incest.

Attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights, who are leading the legal challenge on behalf of the Shreveport clinic and other plaintiffs, have questioned the language in the trigger laws, which define pregnancy as beginning “at fertilization and implantation and grants “unborn children” protection from abortion “from fertilization and implantation.” They argued that “fertilization” and “implantation” are two discreet stages of an embryo’s development, and a ban on abortions from the moment of fertilization would cast the legality of certain forms of emergency contraception and birth control into doubt.

Last week, New Orleans District Court Judge Robin Giarrusso agreed and issued a temporary restraining order last week that blocked the enforcement of the trigger laws, allowing abortions to resume in Louisiana until a July 8 hearing date.

In court filings, Landry dismissed abortion rights groups’ claims that the wording of three of the state’s trigger laws made unclear when the state’s abortion ban would take effect during a person’s pregnancy.

Landry said the plaintiffs' concerns amounted to quibbling.

“Plaintiffs are willfully misreading clear terms in the law in an attempt to manufacture arguments that the statutes are unconstitutionally vague and therefore violate Plaintiffs’ due process rights,” Landry wrote.

He asked the state Supreme Court to immediately dissolve the district court order and allow the state’s trigger laws to take effect, which would cancel Friday’s hearing date.

“As this is purely a matter of law, this Court should take the case and end this improper assault on the law,” Landry wrote.

Landry’s request comes as more than a dozen Louisiana doctors said the lack of clarity around the new regime and fear of stiff criminal penalties for violating the law would change the way they treat patients, which would lead to negative health outcomes for patients who are pregnant or who could become pregnant.

Dr. Jennifer Avegno, health officer for the City of New Orleans and a practicing OB/GYN, said in a sworn affidavit that the trigger bans leave her and other physicians “confused, threatened and worried just for doing our jobs.”

“There are so many circumstances where physicians have to make medically-necessary decisions, including life-threatening pregnancies and miscarriages,” Avegno wrote. “Doctors should not have to weigh whether or not the care they have provided throughout their whole careers should change because of severe legal threats, especially at risk to patients.”

Despite the attorney general’s claims that Giarrusso’s order did not protect doctors who performed the procedure from criminal liability or the loss of their medical licenses, doctors at all three of the state’s abortion clinics have continued to perform the procedure.

Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, the state’s most influential anti-abortion rights organization, praised Landry’s appeal to the state Supreme Court.

“Louisiana is a pro-life state, and our laws reflect our citizen’s determination to protect life,” Clapper said. “We call upon the Louisiana Supreme Court to throw out this baseless lawsuit. It’s time Louisiana protects unborn babies from abortion."

In addition to the dozens of trigger laws passed by state lawmakers, Louisiana voters in 2020 overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution explicitly stating that the document could not be interpreted to include a right to an abortion.

That means that the challenge to the state’s abortion laws was always likely to end up at the Louisiana Supreme Court. Granting Landry’s request would only hasten that result.

Paul Braun was WRKF's Capitol Access reporter, from 2019 through 2023.

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