Louisiana says abortion clinic is hiding criminal evidence

CNA—The Louisiana Department of Justice is asking an appeals court to unseal documents from abortion provider June Medical Services (Hope Medical Group) in order to report evidence of criminal and professional misconduct against a staff member of the group that the department says was hidden from the Supreme Court.

Attorneys for the Louisiana Department of Justice filed the writ of mandamus with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Nov. 18, according to the department’s website. The staff member in question worked at a Shreveport abortion clinic.

Hope Medical Group filed three lawsuits against abortion restriction laws in Louisiana, including a pending suit before the Supreme Court challenging a law requiring abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic.

Legal obligation

“I am deeply concerned about the basic health and safety of Louisiana women. And Hope’s continued efforts to hide this information from the Supreme Court and to block reporting to proper authorities casts serious doubt on Hope and its abortion providers’ claims that it represents the interests of Louisiana women,” Louisiana Solicitor General Liz Murrill said in a statement on the state’s DOJ website.

“As DOJ officers, if we learn of potentially criminal activity during litigation, we have a legal obligation to report it to criminal investigators and licensing authorities. We also have a basic legal duty to protect the public from dangerous behavior when we learn of it. Shockingly, Hope Medical Group is refusing to unseal this evidence and permit us to carry out our legal duties,” Murrill added.

The Louisiana DOJ added in the statement that ordinarily, the evidence they uncovered against the staff member would have resulted in a criminal referral, but that referral has thus far been impeded by the sealing of documents by a federal judge in the case.

The law being challenged at the Supreme Court by Hope Medical Group in Gee v. June Medical Services, LLC is Louisiana’s Unsafe Abortion Protection Act.

When then-Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed the bill into law in 2014, it was promptly challenged in court by pro-choice groups and activists. Texas had passed similar regulations in the name of protecting women’s health, but the Texas law was eventually struck down in the Supreme Court’s 2016 Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision.

In Hellerstedt, the court ruled that the Texas law created an “undue burden” on abortion access in the state, as it had decided in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that state abortion laws could not pose such an obstacle.

The court said in 2016 that for Texas abortion clinics, such a “working arrangement” was already in place with hospitals in the state, and that the provision forced the closure of around half the clinics in the state.

Louisiana law differs from Texas law

After Hellerstedt, a district court barred the Louisiana law from going into effect.

That decision was reversed by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court in June Medical Services, L.L.C. v. Gee, which ruled that the Louisiana case sufficiently differed from the Texas case so that the Supreme Court decision was not applicable on a like-for-like basis. The court in January denied a motion for a rehearing of the case.

The Circuit Court noted in its decision that the Louisiana law varied from the Texas law because of differing requirements between the states for doctors to obtain hospital admitting privileges.

“Few Louisiana hospitals” required a doctor to see a minimum number of patients in order to have admitting privileges, unlike in Texas where “almost all” hospitals had such requirements, the court said. While most clinics in Texas closed because of its law, “only one doctor at one clinic is currently unable to obtain privileges” in Louisiana, the court noted, though this claim has been disputed by Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups.

In February, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked Louisiana’s law from going into effect, after a petition from abortion providers and activists. The Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case in early 2020.

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