An Orleans Parish civil court judge on Friday vacated the temporary restraining order that prevented the implementation of the state’s trigger bans on abortions, and transferred the case against those trigger bans to East Baton Rouge.
The ruling will likely lead the state’s three abortion clinics to close — at least for now — as they did immediately following the United States Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
Judge Ethel Julien of the Orleans Parish Civil District Court granted an exception to the case raised by Attorney General Jeff Landry, who was present in court Friday. He argued that New Orleans was the improper venue to hear the case because the plaintiffs, June Medical Group which runs a clinic in Shreveport, was located outside of the city, and that he has not undertaken any administrative actions in Orleans Parish that would confer jurisdiction there.
After a brief recess to review case law, Julien then concluded that she did not possess the authority to extend the temporary restraining order. The case will be transferred to East Baton Rouge Parish, she said.
Speaking to reporters after Julien handed down her ruling, Landry stated that aborition clinics in the state would face legal exposure if they continue to operate.
“I would say that abortion clinics that are operating in the state of Louisiana as of today are operating illegally, based upon the laws and the constitution of Louisiana,” Landry said. “And if they continue to operate, they do so under their own risk — both the doctors and the clinics as well.”
John Balhoff, the attorney representing Landry on Friday, successfully argued to Julien that Orleans Parish was the wrong venue to hear the case, per Louisiana revised statute 13:5104 – the state law governing venue. That section states that a government official can only be sued in the parish where the capitol is located (East Baton Rouge) or in the parish where the so-called cause of action arises.
“We’re far away from any exercise of administrative duties in Orleans,” Balhoff said.
But the residents of Louisiana are hearing conflicting messages from officials about which laws are in effect, what penalties are associated with those laws and who will enforce them, Ellie Schilling, counsel for June Medical Group, said Friday. The court should act to prevent those laws from being implemented and enforced in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner, she said.
Specifically, the court should enjoin Landry from “continuing to create chaos and fear of arbitrary enforcement and how that contributes to what happens here on the ground,” she said, citing the letter Landry sent to the Louisiana state medical society, threatening the medical licenses of doctors who continued to perform abortions after the temporary restraining order took effect.
“Confusion and conflict here is the most profound than it is anywhere,” Schilling said, referring to Orleans Parish, where the city council recently approved a non-binding resolution urging several city agencies not to use public funds to investigate reports of abortion. In addition, Orleans Parish District Attorney, Jason Williams, has stated that he will not prioritize the prosecution of abortion cases and Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson who in a statement said she would not take anyone who violated the trigger law into custody. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has called the Supreme Court ruling “heartbreaking and dangerous.”
“Thanks to politically motivated actions, the lives of women and the freedom of physicians have been placed in jeopardy,” a statement issued by Cantrell on Friday afternoon read. “This ruling isn’t the end of the fight for our reproductive rights, it is only the beginning.”
Schilling told reporters after the hearing that she did not have a comment to provide. The Women’s Health Care Center in New Orleans could not immediately be reached for comment.
Julien’s decision comes more than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision overturning Roe v. Wade, repealing the constitutional right to abortion. The decision allowed Louisiana’s so-called “trigger laws” to go into affect, barring both surgical and medication abortions in virtually all cases. The laws call for up to 15 years in prison — depending on the gestational age of a fetus — for anyone performing abortion.
But a temporary restraining order issued June 27 by Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Robin Giarusso, in the lawsuit filed against Attorney General Jeff Landry and the Louisiana Department of Health, allowed the state’s three abortion clinics to temporarily resume providing services.
In the plaintiffs’ original lawsuit, 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.
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.
Landry argued the laws were clear and went to far as to file a writ appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court. It was denied earlier this week, allowing Friday’s hearing to go on. On Friday, he invited those who don’t approve of the state’s abortion ban to vote with their feet.
“If you don’t like Louisiana’s laws or Louisiana’s constitution, you can go to another state.”