BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday asked lawyers battling over Louisiana's new, restrictive abortion law for an agreement that apparently could let clinics stay open — at least for a while — after the law takes effect Sept. 1.
U.S. District Judge John deGravelles said that if the two sides cannot agree, he will rule Friday on a request from clinics and doctors for a temporary order blocking enforcement of the law while a lawsuit seeking to overturn it remains in court.
The law will require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of their clinics. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed the court challenge last week, saying doctors haven't had enough time to obtain the privileges and the law likely would force Louisiana's five abortion clinics to close.
Attorneys for the state said in court Thursday that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals barred enforcement against doctors who have requested admitting privileges but don't yet have responses from the hospitals they applied to.
DeGravelles asked whether a state pledge to refrain from enforcing the law against all such doctors would persuade attorneys for two doctors and three clinics to drop their request for a temporary restraining order to stop the law from taking effect. The clinics are in northwest Louisiana and in a New Orleans suburb.
The state's refusal to include doctors at clinics in New Orleans and Baton Rouge had been a sticking point in attempts to reach an agreement, attorneys for both sides said.
DeGravelles sought statements from both Kathy Kliebert and the state Board of Medical Examiners. He also wants Kliebert to state that only her department has the power to enforce the law. Attorneys for state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said he did not plan to get involved unless asked by the health department.
Kyle Duncan, who represents Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert, on Thursday resubmitted a statement filed earlier in the week to add a paragraph explaining the department's authority to enforce the law.
Asked about coverage for doctors in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Duncan said, "Our position was that ... the original declaration covered that." He cited a paragraph that says any doctors who had gotten in touch with the department would have been told that it cannot enforce the law against doctors who don't have a final decision on their requests to hospitals.
The lawsuit filed last Friday said the 81 days between Gov. Bobby Jindal's signature and the Sept. 1 effective date was too little time for doctors to get responses from the hospitals, so the law probably would shut down Louisiana's five abortion clinics. Each hospital has its own rules, and some are more complicated than others.
Admitting privileges laws have passed across the South.
A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Louisiana, upheld a similar Texas law. But in July, a different panel of the 5th Circuit voted to overturn Mississippi's law, which would have shuttered the state's only abortion clinic, saying every state must guarantee the right to an abortion.