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Louisiana Covid-19 Order Challenged by Abortion Providers (1)

April 14, 2020, 5:45 PMUpdated: April 14, 2020, 7:20 PM

Abortion providers in Louisiana are suing the state’s health department and attorney general over a coronavirus-related order that officials allegedly are threatening to use to ban the procedure.

The order, entered by the Louisiana Department of Health March 21, doesn’t specifically address abortion. It directs medical providers to postpone nonessential procedures during the pandemic to promote social distancing and maintain critical medical supplies. It has no expiration date.

Attorney General Jeff Landry urged the department March 28 to say that abortions fall within the order’s guidelines and are nonessential services, a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana Monday says.

Landry’s office conducted inspections of clinics pursuant to the order, Kathleen Pittman, clinic administrator for Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, La., said in a Zoom conference announcing the complaint’s filing.

The threatened use of the order to close abortion clinics in the state violates women’s substantive due process rights to end pregnancies before viability and violates the clinics’ equal protection rights by treating them differently than other health-care providers, Hope’s operator, June Medical Services LLC, alleges.

The state is using the national public health-care emergency as a “pretext” to end abortion in Louisiana, the complaint said.

The providers are seeking a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction, and a permanent injunction prohibiting the state from using the coronavirus order to shutter clinics.

Similar orders have been challenged in seven other states—Texas, Alabama, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Iowa, according to Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing June Medical. The Iowa case has settled, and every district court to rule so far has blocked broad application of the orders to abortion providers, she said.

Causes of Action: Violations of substantive due process and equal protection rights and violations of the Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.

Relief: Temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, and permanent injunction; declaratory judgment; costs and attorneys’ fees.

Response: “While the rest of the Louisiana has come together to fight COVID-19, it is disappointing that June Medical is once again claiming they are exceptional and entitled to a blanket exemption” from an order that applies equally to all health-care providers in Louisiana, Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) said in response to the suit’s filing. “While we have yet to be served with this lawsuit, our State’s citizens can rest assured that we will do all we legally can to protect the health and safety of all in Louisiana.”

Attorneys: Center for Reproductive Rights and Schonekas, Evans, McGoey & McEachin LLC represent June Medical.

For additional legal resources, visit Bloomberg Law In Focus: Coronavirus (Bloomberg Law Subscription).

The case is June Med. Servs. v. Russo, M.D. La., No. 20-cv-229, filed 4/13/20.

(Updated with attorney general's comment.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Anne Pazanowski in Washington at mpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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