MoFo Fells Unconstitutional Louisiana Abortion Law

In 2014, Washington, D.C. partner Demme Doufekias joined the Center for Reproductive Rights in filing a lawsuit to challenge a Louisiana statute that imposed a new rule on doctors in the state: a requirement that they have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of any location where they performed an abortion. The long battle over the statute — which included proceedings in the Fifth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court — concluded on April 26, 2017, when a federal district court in Louisiana declared it unconstitutional and permanently prohibited its enforcement.

The result was foreshadowed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2016 invalidating a similar Texas statute (a case also co-counseled by MoFo’s Alex Lawrence). Success was not a foregone conclusion, however, because the Supreme Court endorsed a weighing of benefits and burdens to determine the constitutionality of such restrictions, and the Louisiana district court needed to apply that analysis to the facts developed in the Louisiana case.

The court’s 116-page opinion conclusively puts to rest the claim that the admitting privileges requirement would in any way benefit women’s health. After reviewing a lengthy evidentiary — compiled and presented through the efforts of Demme’s team — the court concluded: “The Act’s requirement that abortion providers have active admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles does not conform to prevailing medical standards and will not improve the safety of abortion in Louisiana. It provides no benefits to women and is an inapt remedy for a problem that does not exist.” The Act, the court found, would force clinics to close because doctors were unable to obtain the required privileges for reasons “not related to their competence.” The court therefore determined that the Act “would, by limiting access to legal abortions, substantially increase the risk of harm to women’s health by increasing the risks associated with self-induced or illegal and unlicensed abortions,” and “[f]or these reasons, the Court concludes that Act 620 would have a negative impact on women’s health.” Reaching the required weighing of benefits and burdens, the court held, “The record is devoid of any credible evidence that the Act will have a measurable benefit to women’s health, but it is clear that the Act will drastically burden women’s right to choose abortion,” and is therefore unconstitutional.

In addition to Demme, Washington, D.C. lawyers Marc Hearron, David Scannell, Kerry Jones, Aaron Rauh, Tim Gallivan, and Hanna Abrams; New York lawyers Alex Lawrence and Cameron Tepfer, and paralegals Laura Santana and Lisa Harger all contributed to this important pro bono success.