Louisiana Could Become the First State Without Abortion Access

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear a case that could have devastating consequences for abortion access in Louisiana and would set a dangerous precedent that could undermine Roe v. Wade and endanger women’s lives across the country.

At the center of the litigation is Louisiana’s Act 620, which requires doctors performing abortions to have admission privileges at a state-authorized hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.

Just three years ago, the Court struck down an identical Texas law as an undue burden on women’s access to abortion—but that was before Justice Kennedy retired and Justice Kavanaugh was named as his replacement.

The untold story about this case is the role of anti-abortion violence and threats. 

Clinic escorts protect those seeking an abortion from anti-abortion violence and threats. (Lorie Shaull / Creative Commons)

Fear of anti-abortion violence and harassment has led to many hospitals denying admitting privileges to abortion providers. Nearly one in four abortion providers experienced severe violence and threats of violence in 2018, and 52 percent experienced targeted intimidation and threats, according to the Feminist Majority Foundation’s nationwide survey of U.S. abortion clinics.

That is why Feminist Majority Foundation, the National Organization for Women Foundation, Southern Poverty Law Center and Women’s Law Project filed an amicus brief in the case, stating our opposition to Act 620 and uncovering the connection between anti-abortion violence and requiring admitting privileges.

When lawmakers in Louisiana and other states like Mississippi, Kansas and Oklahoma pass laws requiring hospital admitting privileges, they know doctors will be denied—and clinics will close. These laws put women’s lives at risk and disproportionately impact women of color and poor women. This is especially cruel in a state like Louisiana that already has the highest maternal mortality rate in the nation.

Right now, there are only five doctors working at three clinics providing abortion care in Louisiana. Act 620 would leave only a single doctor with admitting privileges who has testified that his fear of being the sole target of anti-abortion extremists in northern Louisiana would create an intolerable safety risk for him and his family and force him to stop providing abortion care to women in the state. This would leave Louisiana without a single abortion provider.

Feminist Majority Foundation has been on the ground in Louisiana working to counter clinic violence and protect independent abortion clinics from threats and harassment.

Most recently, our organizers were on site in New Orleans when Operation Save America targeted physicians at their homes, private medical offices and clinics. Extremists distributed WANTED-style flyers with doctors’ photographs, names and personal information. 

Our team worked with clinics to increase their security measures, and together with local community allies, trained and coordinated volunteers as legal observers and patient escorts. And we worked with local law enforcement to keep doctors and clinic staff safe in their homes in spite of the intimidation by extremists.

The Feminist Majority Foundation is committed to protecting independent women’s clinics. Requiring admitting privileges doesn’t help women—it endangers their lives. It works to close clinics and plays into the hands of violent extremists.

Let’s hope the Supreme Court makes the connection.

About

Eleanor Smeal is president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and publisher of Ms. She appears frequently on television and radio, testifies before Congress on a wide variety of women’s issues and speaks to diverse audiences nationwide on a broad range of feminist topics. For over two decades, she has played a leading role in both national and state campaigns to win women’s rights legislation and in a number of landmark state and federal court cases for women’s rights.