Louisiana Judge Allows Abortion Ban to Take Effect

A judge in Louisiana allowed state laws banning nearly all abortions to take effect on Friday, lifting an earlier court decision that had temporarily blocked them.

Abortions were immediately outlawed starting at conception, with an exception for a threat to the life of a pregnant woman, but with no exceptions for rape or incest. Under one Louisiana law, abortion providers face possible jail time of 10 or 15 years, depending on when the pregnancy was terminated.

Louisiana is among a number of conservative states that passed abortion restrictions or bans in anticipation that the Supreme Court would rescind the constitutional right to abortion, which it did last month. The decision triggered those state bans, which quickly went into effect. Abortion rights groups, however, sued in state courts and in some cases won temporary restraining orders to block the bans, allowing abortions to continue.

In Louisiana, Judge Ethel Julien of the Orleans Parish Civil District Court ruled on Friday that the court did not have the authority to extend a temporary restraining order issued on June 27 because the case should have been filed in the state’s capital, Baton Rouge.

Lawyers representing the abortion providers of Louisiana said the decision was a temporary setback. The case is expected to be transferred to a Baton Rouge court, where abortion rights advocates plan to ask for another suspension of the abortion ban while litigation moves forward.

Abortion providers in Louisiana had argued in the initial case that the state’s trigger laws violated the State Constitution, were “void for vagueness” and did not provide enough specifics about banned actions — such as what exceptions existed for medical workers trying to save a pregnant woman’s life.

“The case continues on, the work continues on,” said Joanna Wright, one of the lead lawyers representing a group of abortion rights advocates and a Louisiana abortion clinic. “This was a decision on a technicality that had nothing to do with the merits of our case.”

Jeff Landry, attorney general of Louisiana, celebrated the end of the temporary restraining order and vowed to continue litigation in Baton Rouge.

“We certainly intend to continue to defend the laws of the state and to enforce the laws,” Mr. Landry said.

The clinic, Hope Medical Group for Women, which had continued to provide abortions after the initial court order blocked Louisiana’s trigger laws from enforcement, said it would pause performing the procedure in light of Friday’s decision.

Clinic staff members canceled abortion appointments and redirected patients to other providers, but the clinic planned to remain open to see patients for ultrasounds and “options counseling,” said Kathaleen Pittman, the administrator of Hope Medical Group.

The fast-changing status of Louisiana’s trigger laws is emblematic of the chaotic national landscape that has unfolded in the two weeks since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Litigators for abortion rights groups rolled out lawsuits challenging trigger bans in a dozen states just after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that since 1973 had guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion.

Judges rejected those challenges in Ohio and Mississippi, but other cases, including in Oklahoma, continue. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is litigating the suit in Louisiana, abortion is now unavailable in nine states.

In Mississippi, the last abortion clinic in the state — Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which brought the suit that the Supreme Court used to overturn Roe — closed on Thursday when a legal challenge failed and the state’s trigger law took effect.

“We asked the Supreme Court to return abortion policymaking to the people,” said Lynn Fitch, the state’s attorney general. “Today, in Mississippi, for the first time in many years, the will of the people as expressed through their elected legislators is no longer held up in a court and will go into effect.”

An Arizona court heard oral arguments on Friday in a challenge to a state law defining life as beginning at conception. The law had been held up by the challenge soon after it passed in 2021, but clinics in the state had stopped providing abortions following the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe, out of fear that the state law would take effect immediately and ban abortion.

Most of the legal challenges nationwide are seeking to establish that the State Constitution protects a right to abortion. In Louisiana, however, voters recently amended the Constitution to say that it did not guarantee that right, making the legal challenge steeper.

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By Jon Doe