Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Robin Giarrusso on Monday granted a temporary restraining order against the state of Louisiana banning it from enforcing the state’s “trigger ban” on abortion, which was set to take effect on Friday following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision repealing the constitutional right to abortion.
The order means that, for now, abortion clinics may be free to operate without fear of prosecution, which could carry prison sentences of up to 15 years for healthcare providers. The trigger ban applies to both surgical and medication abortions and contains no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, only allowing abortions to protect the life of a mother.
Lawyers representing the June Medical Services Group, which runs the Hope Medical Group for Women, an abortion clinic in Shreveport, and nonprofit group Medical Students for Choice filed suit against Attorney General Jeff Landry and the state Department of Health on Monday, after the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned the court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision establishing the fundamental right to abortion.
Landry, the state’s top prosecutor and a staunch opponent of abortion, released a statement through his office Monday afternoon.
“It is unfortunate that there are those who continue to utilize confusion, misinformation, and deceit as scare tactics in the face of the recent (decision),” it stated.
“We would remind everyone that the laws that are now in place were enacted by the people through State Constitutional Amendments and the Louisiana Legislature, which the citizens elect representatives,” it stated. “We are fully prepared to defend these laws in our state courts, just as we have in our federal courts.”
There were three abortion clinics operating in Louisiana prior to the Supreme Court decision on Friday — in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport. All three ceased providing abortion procedures after the decision came down.
But on Monday, following Giarrusso’s order, the Louisiana Illuminator reported that the clinic in Shreveport hopes to continue providing abortions beginning Tuesday.
It was not immediately clear whether the clinics in New Orleans and Baton Rouge will do the same. A representative for the Women’s Health Care Center in New Orleans was not immediately available to comment on the suit. When reached by phone, an employee at the Delta Clinic in Baton Rouge said that the clinic did not have information regarding whether or not abortion procedures would continue following the order.
“Louisiana’s court made the right call today to swiftly block this unjust ban from taking effect. It is incredibly welcome news during a very dark time in our history,” said Jenny Ma, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York, a legal nonprofit representing the plaintiffs. “This means that Louisiana patients will still be able to access the essential health care they need—every second that abortion is accessible counts. While the fight is far from over, we will do everything in our power to preserve abortion access in Louisiana and across the country.”
The plaintiffs are seeking a long-term injunction against enforcement. Giarrusso has ordered a hearing on the suit on July 8 at 10 a.m.
In the lawsuit filed Monday morning, lead plaintiffs’ attorney Ellie Schilling called the law “hopelessly vague,” arguing there’s no state process for determining when the trigger ban would go into effect and that there were inconsistencies in the criminal penalties for providing abortions in the various trigger laws.
States have chipped away at abortion rights for decades, and in recent years, so-called “trigger laws” — which would go into effect upon a reversal of Roe — have been passed in increasing numbers. Louisiana first passed one in 2006 under then Governor Katheleen Blanco.
A new senate bill this year sought to clarify language in the 2006 law. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit says it does anything but.
The bill, Senate Bill 342, was signed into law last week by Gov. John Bel Edwards, a vocally anti-abortion Catholic who has a track record of supporting legal restrictions on the procedure.
Under one part of the law, anyone found guilty of performing an abortion — with or without the pregnant person’s consent — could face up to 10 years in prison. Those found guilty of performing late-term abortions, defined as taking place at 15 weeks of gestation or later, faces up to 15 years if convicted.
But a separate portion of the 2006 law, which was not removed in SB 342, says that anyone performing abortions will be subject to a maximum of two years in prison. The plaintiffs argue it is unclear which one is in effect.
The lawyers argue the state’s trigger laws are vague and fail to outline “constitutionally guaranteed notice of exactly what conduct is prohibited, if any, and when.”
They argue information from public officials, including Attorney General Jeff Landry, has been unclear and inconsistent, including failing to identify which “trigger laws” are allegedly going into effect. The lawsuit notes that Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams has indicated that he will not prosecute providers under the trigger law and that New Orleans City Council Helena Moreno questioned whether or not the law was currently in effect.
On the morning of the Supreme Court decision, Landry tweeted that the trigger ban was in effect. But later that day, after being asked about the state taking action to shut down clinics, Landry said his office was still in the process of reviewing the court’s decision.
The plaintiffs argue that the ambiguity leaves it up to individual citizens to determine whether or not it is in effect, and that it could allow an individual to “effectuate a citizen’s arrest without a warrant.”
Marta Jewson contributed to this report.
Update: This story was updated with comments from Landry’s office.