Long fight over New Orleans abortion clinic back in US court

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Planned Parenthood is asking a federal appeals court to reconsider the question of whether the state of Louisiana must grant a long-sought license for an abortion clinic in New Orleans.

Planned Parenthood began the process to get a license to perform abortions at the New Orleans facility during Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. The efforts continued after Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards succeeded Jindal in 2016. Both men oppose abortion rights.

Two Planned Parenthood organizations and three women filed a federal lawsuit in 2018 accusing the state of illegally delaying action on the application for a license. The state went to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a federal district judge refused to dismiss the suit.

A 5th Circuit panel also refused to dismiss. But, while keeping the lawsuit alive and sending it back to the district court, the three 5th Circuit judges also ruled that federal courts can’t order the state to license the facility. The right to the license is a matter of state law and “there is no free-standing federal right to receive an abortion-clinic license,” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote on behalf of the panel.

The plaintiffs in the case are Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Planned Parenthood Center for Choice and three women, each identified as Jane Doe. They say the state, by not acting on the application for years, is in effect denying a license. They want the federal courts to order the state health department to “grant or stop withholding approval” of the license, arguing that the state has violated federal due process and equal protection rights and is attempting to unconstitutionally obstruct women’s access to abortion.

Last week, Planned Parenthood filed a petition asking the full 5th Circuit, with 17 active members, to consider the issue. It was not clear when the court will act on that request.

“There is a federal right to access abortion … and when that right is violated, plaintiffs are entitled to injunctive relief, even if what they seek is a license to operate,” attorneys for the Planned Parenthood entities and the three women said in the application.

Planned Parenthood offers a wide array of primary care services in Louisiana, including screening for cervical cancer, breast cancer and sexually transmitted diseases. Planned Parenthood facilities do not perform abortions in Louisiana. Were the New Orleans facility to eventually get the license it seeks, it would be the first Planned Parenthood Facility in Louisiana to offer abortions.

In addition to Elrod, who was nominated to the court by President George W. Bush, the judges on the panel that ruled in July were Patrick Higginbotham, nominated by President Ronald Reagan; and James Ho, nominated by President Donald Trump.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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