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Judge blocks Louisiana from enforcing abortion ban in latest courtroom twist

NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana authorities have once again been blocked from enforcing a near total ban on abortion, this time under a judge’s order released Tuesday by a state court in the capital.

Judge Donald Johnson’s order halts enforcement temporarily while lawyers for a north Louisiana clinic and other supporters of abortion rights pursue a lawsuit challenging the legislation. Johnson set a hearing for next Monday.

State Attorney General Jeff Landry criticized the ruling in a series of posts on Twitter.

“To have the judiciary create a legal circus is disappointing,” Landry wrote in one post.

“The rule of law must be followed, and I will not rest until it is. Unfortunately, we will have to wait a little bit longer for that to happen,” he added.

Kathaleen Pittman, director of the north Louisiana clinic that was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, expressed relief in a phone interview. Pittman said the Hope Medical Group for Women clinic in Shreveport is ready to resume counseling and abortions. Louisiana’s two other clinics are in the capital, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans.

“We look forward to arguing for a preliminary injunction before Judge Johnson next Monday and, in the meantime, we take solace in the fact that crucial healthcare for women has been restored in the state of Louisiana,” Joanna Wright, an attorney for the clinic, said in an email.

The suit originated in New Orleans, where a judge issued a temporary order blocking enforcement on June 27, just three days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its 1973 ruling establishing nationwide abortion rights.

But a second New Orleans judge sent the case to Baton Rouge on Friday, saying state law required that it be heard in the capital. Judge Ethel Julien then said that because the case was no longer going to be heard in her court, she did not have the authority to extend the temporary restraining order blocking the law’s enforcement.

Prior to Johnson’s ruling, which was dated Monday, July 11, attorneys for Landry had argued in a filing in Baton Rouge that the temporary restraining order could not be renewed once it expired.

Louisiana’s law includes “trigger language” that made it effective when the Supreme Court reversed abortion rights.

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs don’t deny that the state can now ban abortion as a result of the Supreme Court ruling, but they say current state law is unconstitutionally vague. They contend that Louisiana now has multiple, conflicting trigger mechanisms in the law. They also argue that the state law is unclear on whether it bans an abortion prior to a fertilized egg implanting in the uterus.

And while the law provides an exception for “medically futile” pregnancies in cases of fetuses with fatal abnormalities, the plaintiffs note it gives no definition of the term and that state health officials haven’t yet provided a list of conditions that would qualify. The suit claims the state law is unclear on when the ban takes effect and on medical exceptions to it.

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