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Access to abortions for some minors restored in Louisiana after judge dismisses lawsuit

Center for Reproductive Rights

Minors in Louisiana can again petition judges for the right to get an abortion, after a Lafayette judge lifted a temporary restraining order Wednesday and dismissed a lawsuit filed by a mother over her teenage daughter’s abortion.

Todd Gaudin, a lawyer who represented the mother in the case, said she voluntarily withdrew the suit. The judge’s order was not immediately available.

“We applaud today’s decision, restoring young people’s access to abortion care through judicial bypass,” said Michelle Erenberg, the executive director of the Lift Louisiana, a legal and lobbying non-profit that advocates for abortion rights. “We strongly believe young people are entirely capable of making their reproductive decisions in whatever way they are most comfortable, whether that involves a parent or not.”

For the last week, anyone under the age of 18 who couldn’t get parental consent for an abortion has been barred from asking the courts to step in, in a process required by the U.S. Supreme Court known as judicial bypass.

Ellie Schilling, a lawyer and co-founder of Lift Louisiana, represented the Shreveport abortion clinic Hope Medical Group for Women at the hearing and argued the mother had no cause of action against the clinic.

Judge Thomas Frederick of the 15th Judicial District Court imposed the restraining order Oct. 27, after the mother of a 17-year-old abortion patient sued the state and abortion clinics, arguing that her rights as a parent had been violated when her daughter sought and received an abortion granted by a New Orleans judge.

Judge Frederick’s temporary restraining order prevented any state judge from granting a minor’s abortion until a hearing in the case on Wednesday. Because the case involves a minor, the hearing was closed to the public.

In the lawsuit, the mother alleged a New Orleans judge approved her daughter’s abortion during a 15-minute hearing that didn’t sufficiently establish that her daughter was mature enough and well informed enough to make the decision, a requirement of judicial bypass law. She also argued that she should have been allowed to testify at the hearing, and that her daughter suffered a perforated uterus from the surgical abortion.

“The intent of the lawsuit was to try to bring attention to how the statute was being applied,” Gaudin said.

He said his client decided to withdraw the suit because the goal had been met.

Gaudin added that Attorney General Jeff Landry, one of the state’s most prominent anti-abortion politicians and whose office was tasked with defending the state in the lawsuit, will be drafting additional guidance for judges in these cases to comply with Louisiana law. Landry’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit came in the wake of a new state law that requires most minors to seek abortions from judges in their home parish. The new law is supported by Louisiana Right to Life, the state’s most prominent anti-abortion group which is also critical of the judicial bypass process.

“We have grave concerns about the judicial bypass altogether, and the lack of a meaningful process,” said Angie Thomas, the associate director.

Lift Louisiana opposed the new state law, arguing it would create barriers for minors seeking abortions.

The case also arrived amid a time of high stakes for abortion in Louisiana and the country.

Louisiana clinics are seeing an influx of patients from Texas, after a 6-week abortion ban was allowed to take effect in that state for the past two months. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case on Monday.

Next month, it will hear arguments in a case widely predicted to undermine or eliminate the constitutional right to an abortion: Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The suit involves a 15-week abortion ban that Mississippi's legislature passed in 2018.

Louisiana passed its own 15-week ban the same year, which would take effect if Mississippi’s were upheld. If the court, now a 6-3 conservative majority, was to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision protecting a constitutional right to an abortion, a trigger ban could take effect in Louisiana that would bar all abortions except to prevent the pregnant person’s death.

Rosemary Westwood is the public and reproductive health reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.

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