BATON ROUGE, La. — Planned Parenthood wants a federal judge to force Louisiana’s health department to issue an abortion license for its clinic in New Orleans, saying in a lawsuit filed Friday that Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration has put up unconstitutional roadblocks to licensure.
The organization operates two clinics in Louisiana, but its New Orleans clinic would be the first to provide abortions. The new, larger New Orleans facility opened in mid-2016, and the lawsuit says its request for a license to provide abortions has languished with the state health department for nearly 17 months.
“We will not allow politicians to continue imposing their personal beliefs on everyone. We have to keep fighting state by state and law by law to make sure everyone gets the health care they want or need, without politicians controlling when, how and why,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.
The lawsuit, filed in Baton Rouge federal court, challenges as unconstitutional both the delays in approval of the abortion clinic license and a 2016 law pushed by Edwards, an abortion opponent, to block Medicaid financing for entities that perform abortions in Louisiana.
Planned Parenthood says the Edwards administration is trying to deny access to legal health services in a state where the number of abortion clinics has dwindled from seven in 2010 to three, in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport.
“Despite this overwhelming need, (Planned Parenthood’s) plans to provide abortion at the New Orleans Health Center have been met with an unprecedented level of opposition at every turn, causing setback after setback in plaintiff’s efforts to serve the women of New Orleans,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit names Health Department Secretary Rebekah Gee as the defendant. It includes as plaintiffs three Medicaid patients listed as Jane Does who receive health care at the organization’s clinics in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
The health department didn’t immediately comment Friday on the lawsuit.
During debate on the 2016 law, supporters said they don’t want tax dollars to flow to clinics that offer abortions, even though Medicaid money can’t pay for abortions. They said they hoped the legislation would dissuade Planned Parenthood from providing abortions in New Orleans.
Federal judges have blocked previous Louisiana efforts to cut off Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood clinics.
The clinic in New Orleans, which opened in June 2016, doubled the size of the organization’s previous facility and offers a wide array of primary care services, including screening for cervical cancer, breast cancer and sexually transmitted diseases. Lawmakers tried to slow construction of the facility with regulatory hurdles but were unsuccessful.
“Just getting the building constructed was a herculean feat,” the lawsuit says.
Workers on the facility were harassed, one subcontractor received death threats and a car was set on fire outside the construction site, according to the lawsuit.
Planned Parenthood submitted its application to the health department for an abortion license in September 2016. The lawsuit says the agency forced unnecessary delays in the licensing review, sending a letter in June 2017 that said an investigation of Planned Parenthood was needed, even though such an investigation isn’t required in application procedures.
Eight months later, Planned Parenthood hasn’t received any further communication about its abortion clinic licensure application, the lawsuit says.
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