BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration has enacted new rules for Louisiana's abortion clinics that abortion rights supporters say will make it nearly impossible for the state's five clinics to stay open.
When it enacted the regulations, the Department of Health and Hospitals said they were designed to comply with new laws passed last year and to clarify licensing requirements.
But the rules go beyond new restrictions enacted by legislators, some say.
Ellie Schilling, a New Orleans lawyer advising the state's abortion clinics, said the 20 pages of rewritten regulations add requirements that seem intended to shutter the facilities. She said the state added new paperwork filings, larger size mandates and increased staffing requirements and also eliminated certain appeal rights for clinics.
The prior regulations "were sufficient to protect health and safety, and they at least made it possible for clinics to comply with them," Schilling said. "Now, DHH has basically given itself a whole arsenal of medically unnecessary and arbitrary rules that it can cite facilities for."
She said citations can be used to make clinics look repeatedly noncompliant with regulations and to revoke their licenses.
DHH spokeswoman Olivia Watkins didn't explain Wednesday why the licensing requirements were so extensively revamped.
"The Department filed an emergency rule as is typical with rule changes aimed at protecting the health and safety of patients," Watkins said in a statement.
A public hearing on the new licensing standards is scheduled for Feb. 4.
Already the health department has announced plans to rework some of the new regulations amid the criticism.
Watkins said DHH will rescind language that required a pregnant woman to get a blood test 30 days before she could seek an abortion. Critics said that added a 30-day waiting period not required under state law and could make it impossible for some women to get an abortion before the 20-week deadline of pregnancy.
Watkins said the wording was incorrect and would be removed.
"The intent was to say that blood test results be provided to facilities at least 24 hours prior to a procedure being done to give time for doctors to clinically review lab results," she said.
The health department also will tweak the size requirements to cover new facilities or clinics undergoing renovations, Watkins said.
"The square footage cited in the rule follows standards for other outpatient medical providers," she said.
Abortion rights supporters said those changes won't address all their concerns.
The rewritten regulations make clinics apply for new licenses if they move to a new location or change management, and then tougher licensing requirements kick in, Schilling said.
"It just seems clear that their intent is to shut clinics down, and this set of regulations gives them so many ways to do it," Schilling said.
Louisiana has among the toughest abortion restrictions in the nation.
Five clinics offer the procedure, in Shreveport, Bossier City, Baton Rouge and the New Orleans area. Planned Parenthood is building a facility in New Orleans that would provide abortions, but Schilling said the new regulations would make it difficult for the clinic to obtain a license.
Benjamin Clapper, executive director of the anti-abortion organization Louisiana Right to Life, said DHH is putting standards in place that will protect women from unsafe conditions in abortion facilities.
"The abortion industry in Louisiana looks to cut costs and maximize the number of abortions its facilities sell to the women of Louisiana. Because of this, it is necessary for the DHH to continually review its regulations of this dangerous industry," he said in a statement.