A Louisiana judge on Monday temporarily stopped the state from enforcing Republican-backed laws banning abortion, set to take effect after the US supreme court ended the constitutional right to the procedure last week.
Louisiana is one of 13 states which passed “trigger laws”, to ban or severely restrict abortions once the supreme court overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that recognized a right to the procedure. It did so on Friday, stoking uproar among progressives and protests and counter-protests on the streets of major cities.
In New Orleans on Monday, an Orleans Parish civil district court judge, Robin Giarrusso, issued a temporary restraining order, blocking the state ban.
The case before Judge Giarruso, a Democrat, was brought by Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, one of three abortion clinics in Louisiana.
“We’re going to do what we can,” Kathaleen Pittman, administrator of Hope Medical Group, told the Associated Press. “It could all come to a screeching halt.”
The Louisiana lawsuit is one of several challenging Republican-backed abortion laws under state constitutions.
A Utah judge blocked that state’s near-total abortion ban from going into effect for 14 days, to allow time for the court to hear challenges to the state’s trigger law. Planned Parenthood had challenged the law, which contains narrow exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s health, saying the law violates the equal protection and privacy provisions in the state constitution.
A Florida ban on abortions after 15 weeks is also the subject of a request for a temporary block. A ruling on that is expected Thursday – a day before the law is scheduled to take effect.
In Arizona, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and an abortion-rights group filed an emergency motion on Saturday, seeking to block a 2021 law they worry can be used to halt all abortions.
On the national stage on Monday, a group of 22 attorneys general issued a statement promising to “leverage our collective resources” to help women in states where abortions are banned.
A statement said: “Abortion care is healthcare. Period.”
The statement was signed by the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
They said: “We stand together, as our states’ chief law officers, to proudly say that we will not back down in the fight to protect the rights of pregnant people in our states and across the country.
“While the US supreme court’s decision reverses nearly half a century of legal precedent and undermines the rights of people across the United States, we’re joining together to reaffirm our commitment to supporting and expanding access to abortion care nationwide.”
The statement added: “Ultimately, what harms people in some states harms us all. The future and wellbeing of our nation is intrinsically tied to the ability of our residents to exercise their fundamental rights.
“… If you seek access to abortion and reproductive healthcare, we’re committed to using the full force of the law to … fight for your rights and stand up for our laws.
“We will support our partners and service providers. We will take on those who seek to control your bodies and leverage our collective resources – thousands of lawyers and dedicated public servants across our states. Together, we will persist.”
As of Saturday, abortion services had stopped in at least 11 states. Speaking to the Associated Press, Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said the group was looking at “all options” to protect access.
But lawsuits may only buy time. Even if courts block restrictions, lawmakers could address any cited flaws.
That is likely to be the case in Louisiana. The plaintiffs in the suit there do not deny that the state can ban abortion. Instead, they contend Louisiana has multiple and conflicting trigger mechanisms in law.
The suit says the trigger laws, the first of which was passed in 2006, make it impossible to tell when they are in effect, if one or all are in force and what conduct is prohibited. The lawsuit contends that such vagueness has resulted in state and local officials issuing conflicting statements about whether the trigger bans are in effect.
Giarruso wrote: “Each of the three trigger bans excepts different conduct, making it impossible to know what abortion care is illegal and what is allowed, including what care can be provided to save a woman’s life or end a medically futile pregnancy.”
Giarruso scheduled an 8 July hearing to decide whether to further block enforcement of the ban. The Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the suit on behalf of the clinic, said abortion care was resuming in Louisiana.
The Republican state attorney general, Jeff Landry, did not immediately comment. On Friday, he said those who challenged state bans would be “in for a rough fight”.
Prosecutors in some Democratic-led cities in Republican-led states have indicated they will not enforce abortion bans.
The New Orleans district attorney, Jason Williams, said he would not criminalize abortions and that the overturning of Roe v Wade “is a cruel and irresponsible stripping of a woman’s agency”.
Condemning leaders for not focusing on issues such as lifting children out of poverty, he added: “It would not be wise or prudent to shift our priority from tackling senseless violence happening in our city to investigating the choices women make with regard to their own body.”
On Monday, in light of moves by Cincinnati city leaders to support abortion access, Joseph Deters, the Republican county prosecutor, said: “I have repeatedly stated it is dangerous when prosecutors pick and choose what laws they want to enforce. When prosecutors do not follow their oath, it will promote lawlessness and challenge the basic structures of separation of powers.”
Regarding the Louisiana case, Nancy Northup, chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said: “A public health emergency is about to engulf the nation. We will be fighting to restore access in Louisiana and other states for as long as we can.
“Every day that a clinic is open and providing abortion services can make a difference in a person’s life.”