Judge finds Louisiana abortion laws vague; enforcement still on hold

By: - July 21, 2022 2:42 pm
New Orleans protest over Supreme Court overturning abortion ruling

Protestors march toward City Hall in New Orleans to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling June 24, 2022, that overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. (Piper Hutchinson/Louisiana Illuinator)

Judge Don Johnson ruled Thursday that Louisiana’s abortion laws are vague and therefore cannot be enforced. His decision puts a preliminary injunction on the state’s “trigger” law that keeps Attorney General Jeff Landry and the state health department from shutting down the state’s three abortion clinics for now.

Kathaleen Pittman of Hope Medical Group for Women, which sued the state to block the trigger law, told The Advocate “Our phones are ringing off the wall” at the Shreveport clinic. It has continued to provide services while a temporary restraining order was in place. Clinics in Baton Rouge and New Orleans are also seeing patients, according to the report.

Landry’s office has yet to respond to the ruling. He has the option to appeal, ultimately to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

There’s a strong likelihood that the Louisiana Legislature will revisit its abortion laws to address the vagaries Johnson highlighted in his ruling. The plaintiffs, which also include a medical student organization, argued that language in the statutes makes it unclear how doctors will deem a pregnancy is nonviable or determine when a pregnant person’s life is at risk.

These are the only two exceptions allowed in the abortion law after lawmakers made changes this past session. They also increased the penalties for anyone who performs and abortion, although plaintiffs insist there’s also confusion about the punitive aspects of the law.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrats who has repeatedly stressed his anti-abortion stance, approved those updates. He said earlier this week that he feels physicians would be allowed to make good-faith decisions under existing law, although he would have preferred that exceptions for rape and incest be added.

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Except for a short stint since the Supreme Court reversed its Roe v. Wade decision in late June, Louisiana has not been able to enforce its abortion law. A New Orleans judge issued a temporary restraining order the Monday after the justices decision, and it stayed in place until July 8 when another New Orleans judge moved the clinic’s lawsuit to Baton Rouge.

The order was put back into effect July 12, and Johnson extended it earlier this week while attorneys for both sides presented their arguments and submitted proposed judgments.

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Greg LaRose
Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg's other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.

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