Ruling on Louisiana abortion ban expected Tuesday

Abortion Rights Supporter Outside Clinic
An abortion rights supporter sits outside a New Orleans clinic June 24, 2022, after the U.S. Supreme Court overruled its 1973 landmark decision in Roe v. Wade. It’s one of three Louisiana abortion clinics that will resume services after a state judge temporarily stopped a state abortion ban from taking effect. Piper Hutchinson (LA Illuminator)

This story was first reported by Louisiana Illuminator and republished with permission.

State District Judge Don Johnson heard arguments Monday in the lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s abortion ban. He directed the parties involved to submit proposed judgments for him to consider. A temporary restraining order preventing the ban from being enforced will remain in effect pending Johnson’s decision.

Johnson granted attorneys for the defendants, Attorney General Jeff Landry and Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Courtney Phillips, an extension until 10 a.m. Tuesday to submit their proposals.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs, Hope Medical Group for Women, a Shreveport abortion clinic, its administrator Kathaleen Pittman and Medical Students for Choice argued that the state’s three abortion “trigger laws” are unconstitutionally vague. Joanna Wright, one of the attorneys, argued that the conflicting language in the statutes make it impossible for physicians to know what services violate the law and what the potential penalties are.

Wright further argued that not only are the statutes conflicting, statements Landry has made on social media further muddy the waters as to which laws would be enforced.

John Balhoff, primary attorney for the defendants, argued that all three of the trigger laws are enforceable and not unconstitutionally vague. He pointed out that criminal statutes must provide a minimum and a maximum penalty, which the statutes do, even though the laws provide different limits.

Balhoff also argued that the laws are clear as to what is not permissible. Under the law, abortions to remove ectopic pregnancies or a fetus that has a condition incompatible with life are not defined as abortions, he said, and therefore are legally permissible. He added that state law sufficiently states doctors must act in good faith when making healthcare decisions.

“Doctors all already operate using reasonable medical judgment,” Balhoff said.

More than a dozen physicians filed sworn affidavits in the case attesting to their confusion.

“Fear of punishment aligned with lack of clarity on how this law will be enforced can lead to devastating consequences for Louisiana women as well as moral distress for the clinicians who care for them and have taken the Hippocratic oath to do no harm,” Dr. Rebekah Gee, former Louisiana Department of Health secretary, wrote in her affidavit.

Gee also wrote that the law does not make it clear how ill a pregnant person must be before a life-saving abortion is permissible.

“To satisfy these laws – does it have to be her heart that fails, what about her lungs, her kidneys, and so on, what organs would this law decide are necessary to protect her life?” her affidavit said.

Balhoff took issue with Gee’s affidavit, arguing that the definition of life-sustaining organs is obvious, and includes the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs.

“You can even operate with one lung,” Balhoff said.

Wright, the plaintiffs’ attorney, pointed out that Balhoff’s comment that somebody can live with one lung added further ambiguity to what is legally permissible.

After hearing the arguments, Johnson said that he would make a decision after reviewing the proposed rulings.

In a press conference outside the courthouse, Landry said the state’s abortion ban is clear and invited those who don’t approve of the laws to leave the state.