NEW ORLEANS — Lawyers for the state of Louisiana asked a federal appeals court Thursday to uphold a law requiring that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
The arguments involve a law blocked by a federal judge in Baton Rouge last year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar Texas law.
U.S. District Judge John deGravelles was wrong when he ruled against the law in April 2017, argued Elizabeth Murill of the state attorney general's office.
"He exaggerated the burden. He minimized the benefits," Murill told a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
DeGravelles ruled months after the Supreme Court struck down Texas' rules, widely replicated by other anti-abortion states, requiring hospital admitting privileges for abortion doctors and requiring abortion clinics to meet hospital-like standards.
The clinic standards were not at issue in the Louisiana case argued on Thursday. And Murill argued that, in Louisiana, abortion rights advocates failed to make the case that requiring admission privileges would put impermissible obstacles in the way of women seeking abortions in the state.
Court records indicate there are three abortion clinics currently operating in the state, with a handful of doctors performing the procedures, in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport. The law's opponents said it likely would result in one doctor at one clinic in New Orleans providing abortion care, a contention the state disputes.
Murill argued that in some cases, doctors who now perform abortions have failed to make sufficient effort to obtain hospital admitting privileges, and that hospitals in some instances extend "courtesy" privileges to such doctors. She also cited testimony by the law's backers about a complication — a perforated uterus — that happened during one abortion procedure in the state as proof that requiring hospital privileges would increase safety for abortion patients.
The law's opponents cite expert testimony on the safety of first-trimester abortions — including the statistic that only about one-twentieth of a percent of such procedures lead to complications requiring hospital treatment.
Marc Hearron, an attorney arguing for the law's opponents, said the state is underestimating the effects it would have.
The opponents argue the law would eventually result in loss of access to abortion by 70 percent of women seeking the procedure in a state where 10,000 abortions are performed annually. Even if the state is right in its arguments about the number of doctors who would likely get privileges in north Louisiana, access to abortion would still be in doubt for about 55 percent of women seeking the procedure, Hearron argued.
There was no indication when a ruling would be issued by the panel of judges — Jerry Smith, Patrick Higginbotham and Edith Brown Clement.