Challenge of Louisiana abortion rules survives, for now

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal appeals court on Friday rejected the state of Louisiana's request that it toss out a lawsuit challenging a broad array of Louisiana abortion regulations.

But the ruling from a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals ruling also said abortion rights advocates lack standing to pursue many of their claims. It said a lower court judge's ruling allowing the entire case to proceed was in error. And the panel reserved the right to reconsider its decision after the district court judge looks at each challenged regulation individually.

The lawsuit argues that the state's regulatory scheme as a whole creates medically unjustified barriers to legal abortion. The appeals panel said some of the claims — such as those regarding building requirements and signage — don't harm women seeking abortions.

Louisiana had asked the court to throw out the suit by issuing a "writ of mandamus" ordering that parts of the lawsuit be dismissed. Attorneys for Texas and Mississippi also filed briefs in the case on Louisiana's side.

The appeals court acknowledged that a writ of mandamus is an extraordinary remedy and said it would hold off on issuing one pending a further look at the lawsuit's claims.

The panel, in an unsigned opinion, said the lawsuit challenged "a bevy of legal provisions that appear incapable of injuring them."

Some of the examples the panel cited included requirements that an abortion facility have a name that does not mislead patients into thinking it is run by the state; requirements that a clinic take steps to protect patient records from loss or damage and requirements for sanitary toilet facilities.

The appellate panel said some of the lawsuit's claims legitimately allege legal harm, an example being a claim that some of the state's clinic inspection procedures violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The panel said the lawsuit's "scores of legal challenges must be disentangled so standing can be adjudicated for each one."

Both sides issued positive statements on Friday's decision.

"Louisiana has taken extreme measures to dismiss our case but the Fifth Circuit rightly denied their extraordinary mandamus petition," said Jenny Ma, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights. Ma said that since the challenged laws took effect in 2001, the number of abortion clinics in the state dropped from 11 to three."

A statement from Attorney General Jeff Landry's office called the lawsuit "an overreach" and said the regulations benefit women. "We are gratified that the Fifth Circuit reaffirmed very basic rules that apply when state laws are challenged in federal courts."

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