Friday, September 21, 2018

Louisiana abortion clinic wants regulatory rewrite nullified

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A Louisiana abortion clinic asked a state judge Wednesday to throw out a 2015 state rewrite of clinic regulations, saying the health department ignored the rules for making such changes.

Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport argues that the Louisiana Department of Health disregarded reams of public comments about the regulations when they were being proposed.

The clinic, backed by abortion-rights organization Lift Louisiana, challenged the 20-page revamp of the licensing standards last year. On Wednesday, the clinic's attorneys filed a motion asking the judge in the ongoing lawsuit to declare the three-year-old regulatory rewrite unenforceable, without going through a full trial.

The health department "crammed the regulations through the process, despite public outcry, without substantially complying with the rulemaking procedure," New Orleans lawyer Ellie Schilling, representing the Hope clinic, wrote in court documents.

No hearing date was immediately set.

As the changes to the abortion clinic regulations were made, former Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration said they more clearly spelled out licensing requirements and staffing provisions designed to protect women's safety.

Abortion-rights supporters said the changes sought to hinder abortion clinic operations by adding burdensome paperwork requirements and making it easier to be deemed in violation of rules so a clinic could be cited for deficiencies or lose its license entirely.

When the health department published the final version of the new licensing standards in April 2015, the agency had made no substantive changes to regulations that months earlier had sparked thousands of comments with concerns in response.

Hope Medical Group for Women, one of three abortion clinics in Louisiana, argues that the health department didn't follow Louisiana's Administrative Procedure Act, which outlines a detailed process for enacting regulations, including legislative review and public comment. The clinic says the health department paid no attention to the public comments.

"This case is about transparency, government accountability and an agency that chose to flout those values," Schilling wrote.

Louisiana's health department directed questions about the lawsuit Wednesday to the attorney general's office, which is defending the agency and didn't immediately issue a response. The health department previously said that it took the public comments into consideration as it worked on the final language for the abortion clinic licensing regulations.

The agency, according to the abortion clinic's court filing, issued a "global response" to more than 10,000 comments submitted about the regulations, which doesn't meet the standards outlined in law. The agency, Schilling wrote, "did not review and consider all of the comments — or any of the comments — in any meaningful way."

The court filing says the health department produced 36,000 pages of documents in response to the clinic's lawsuit, but no email or document showing its employees discussing the substance of the comments or considering whether to tweak the regulations in response.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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