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Some minors in Louisiana can't get abortions under this judge's ruling

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

A Lafayette judge is preventing some minors from obtaining abortions in Louisiana, after the mother of a 17-year-old abortion patient sued the state and abortion clinics.

On Wednesday, state Judge Thomas Frederick of the 15th Judicial District Court in Lafayette issued a temporary restraining order barring any state judges from approving a minor’s request for an abortion at the state's three clinics.

The restraining order, first reported by NOLA.com, is in effect at least until Nov. 3, when a hearing in the case has been set.

At issue is part of a Louisiana law that generally restricts how minors can access abortions.

Broadly, anyone under 18 must have parental consent to get an abortion. For minors who can’t obtain that consent — either because their parent or guardian is unavailable or refuses — there is a last resort, one that U.S. Supreme Court precedent specifically requires: asking the permission of a state court judge.

Attorney General Jeff Landry, one of the state’s most prominent anti-abortion politicians, is now in the position of defending the state over a law that allows minors to access abortions without parental consent.

His office has filed briefs both defending the law as constitutional and attacking the safety records of Louisiana abortion clinics. A submission by Solicitor General Liz Murrill calls abortion history in the state “horrifying” and argues the mother has a right to “control the upbringing of her daughter.”

The 17-year-old abortion patient first asked her mother to help her get an abortion in February. Her mother said no. The minor then turned to the Judicial Bypass Project, a Louisiana legal aid group that helps minors navigate the courts and file for a judicial bypass, the process designed by the U.S. Supreme Court to make sure that parents cannot prevent minors from excercising the constitutional right to an abortion.

The teenager had an abortion in May in New Orleans. In September, she told her mother she was pregnant again, and asked for her consent. This time, her mother sued, naming Gov. John Bel Edwards, Attorney General Jeff Landry, other state officials and the state’s three abortion clinics.

In the lawsuit, the mother argues the New Orleans judge who approved her daughter’s abortion — which happened after a hearing conducted over video conference due to COVID-19 restrictions — didn’t sufficiently establish that her daughter was mature enough and well informed enough to make the decision, a requirement of the law. She also argued that as the mother, she should have been allowed to testify at the hearing.

The lawsuit also alleges the daughter suffered a perforated uterus from the surgical abortion.

Angie Thomas, the associate director of Louisiana Right to Life, the state’s most prominent anti-abortion group, criticized the ability for judges to grant permission for abortions when parents refuse.

“Virtually any minor can go around their parents to get a judicially-approved abortion, especially when pro-abortion attorneys are coaching them through the process,” Thomas said. “A judge with virtually no knowledge of the minor and her family should not be able to veto a parent and decide what is in the minor’s best interest."

Laura Fine, a lawyer with the Judicial Bypass Project, said she will be telling any minors who contact her that she cannot go to court with them to help them obtain an abortion.

“Essentially, what this order does is prevent minors from accessing their constitutional rights,” she said. “And I'm not sure how a state judge can issue an order like that.”

“I don't know that it would hold up in the appellate situation or in a federal review of it,” she added. “I don't think that it would, because it is a blanket prohibition on constitutional rights.”

Neither Fine nor the Judicial Bypass Project are named in the suit, and it’s unclear whether they have standing to appear at the hearing and respond to the allegations in the lawsuit.

After the Nov. 3 hearing, the judge could issue a temporary injunction continuing to bar state judges from granting abortions. He could later issue permanent injunction against the law.

The lawsuit comes in the wake of a new state law that requires most minors to seek abortions in their home parish.

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