Louisiana law that outlaws abortion still on hold for now; judge could rule Tuesday
A Baton Rouge judge could rule as soon as Tuesday on whether he will extend a temporary order blocking the state from enforcing its trigger law outlawing almost all abortions following Monday's hearing in the 19th Judicial Courthouse.
Judge Don Johnson gave both sides until 10 a.m. Tuesday to present final findings from the hearing. His temporary restraining order will remain in place at least until then.
That allows the state’s three abortion clinics in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport to remain open for now.
"The law is clear," said Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry, who is defending Louisiana's trigger law, following Monday's hearing. "Ultimately we will win."
But attorneys representing Hope Medical Group in Shreveport, where the bulk of the state's surgical abortions take place, argued the state's trigger law is unconstitutionally vague, meaning "ordinary citizens" can't understand the law and its exceptions.
Attorney Joanna Wright also said doctors don't understand the law.
She presented affidavits from physicians saying doctors are afraid to provide sometimes life-sustaining care for pregnant women with medically futile pregnancies and miscarriages, two of the few exceptions to Louisiana's abortion ban.
Wright presented an example of a doctor who said a patient whose water broke during the 16th week of pregnancy "far before viability" wanted a dilation and evacuation abortion "to quickly and safely end the pregnancy" in about 15 minutes.
But the hospital's attorney advised against the procedure because of the trigger law and the labor would have to be induced and the patient "push out the fetus" on her own.
"She was screaming — not from pain, but from the emotional trauma she was experiencing," the doctor said of the patient, who began hemorrhaging and lost close to a liter of blood.
"This was the first time ... that I could not give a patient the care they needed," the doctor said. "This is a travesty."
But Attorney John Balhoff, who works for the attorney general, dismissed arguments that the law is unclear, saying the trigger law "goes to extraordinary lengths to define the terms."
Balhoff said the law gives doctors the bandwidth to make decisions using "reasonable medical judgment."
Wright also accused Landry and his Solicitor General Liz Murrill of trying to intimidate doctors on Twitter, which Balhoff described as inconsequential and "nothing but Twitter wars."
Afterward, Landry said he stands by his tweets.
"They seem to interpret my tweets better than they interpret the law," said Landry, who again invited those who didn't like the law to move out of state.
Louisiana's 2006 trigger law, updated by Democratic Monroe Sen. Katrina Jackson's bill this summer, was designed to take effect immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing legal abortions.
It outlaws virtually all abortions with an exception for saving the life of the mother, but no exceptions for rape or incest.
Louisiana's updated trigger law carries criminal penalties of up to 15 years for doctors who perform abortions but exempts pregnant women from prosecution.
The Louisiana Supreme Court is expected to have the final say over whether the state’s trigger law is too vague as those challenging it argue whether the law should take effect.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.