LARTL Calls On Gov. Edwards to Enforce Pandemic Order On Abortion Facilities

Send Your Email to Governor Edwards and Ask Him to Enforce His Covid-19 Order on Abortion Businesses!

Three incidents occurred on Monday, April 20, related to the operation of Louisiana abortion facilities in defiance of Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) COVID-19 health orders postponing medical and surgical procedures.  

With this information, Louisiana Right to Life sent a letter to Governor John Bel Edwards respectfully urging decisive action by his administration and the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners to halt all non-emergency procedures at outpatient abortion facilities and to hold the facilities and physicians accountable for their blatant disregard of emergency health orders. 

Louisiana abortion facilities have been performing elective, non-emergency abortions during the COVID-19 crisis without determining if the procedures are necessary for the life or health of the mother.

Following is a review:

  • On Saturday, March 21, 2020, LDH promulgated #2020-COVID-ALL-007, directing that all non-emergent medical and surgical procedures be postponed.
  • Shortly after the LDH March 21 order, the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners (LSBME) issued a letter to all licensed physicians of every specialty calling for adherence to the LDH order.  The letter stated, “The LSBME will have a zero tolerance of licensees violating these LDH, State Health Officer, orders. Complaints of violation of Dr. Guidry’s orders will be investigated, and physicians will subject to possible disciplinary action.”
  • Following the order, all three abortion facilities closed on Monday, March 23.
  • On Tuesday, March 24, June Medical Services, operating in Shreveport as Hope Medical Group for Women, re-opened its doors, and that facility has been busy since then performing elective abortions on clients from Louisiana and surrounding states.  
  • On Saturday, March 28, Attorney General Jeff Landry issued a statement titled: “Shreveport abortion clinic ignoring the health directive, further jeopardizing public safety.”
  • On Thursday, April 2, Delta Clinic of Baton Rouge opened, and in the days following, Women’s Health Care Center in New Orleans opened. All three abortion facilities have remained open and busy, showing seemingly no difference in client load from times prior to the COVID-19 crisis. (The April 15 LDH letter referenced below stated, “it appears that Hope has not been providing significantly less number of procedures as compared to pre-order levels.”)
  • Immediately following the opening of these facilities, physicians and local citizens sent letters addressed to Gov. Edwards, the Louisiana Department of Health, and the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners informing them of their public health concerns regarding the fully operational abortion facilities.
  • On Thursday, April 9, based on the letters of complaint and public reports of full abortion clinic parking lots, Attorney General Jeff Landry’s COVID-19 Task Force conducted a fact-finding visit to the Hope Medical Group in Shreveport, Delta Clinic in Baton Rouge, and an endoscopy clinic in Shreveport. At a later time, the COVID-19 Task Force also visited Women’s Health Care Center in New Orleans.

          Public Records Request Obtains
          LDH Letter to Hope Abortion Facility

          On Monday, Louisiana Right to Life obtained through a public records request a copy of a letter dated April 15 and sent by the Louisiana Department of Health State Health Officer Jimmy Guidry to Kathleen Pittman, administrative director of Hope Medical Group for Women. (Note that Louisiana Right to Life has also requested copies of the COVID-19 Task Force report and letters to other facilities, including the endoscopy clinic, but has not received them to date.)

          In the April 15 letter to the Shreveport abortion facility, Dr. Guidry outlined three “key areas of concern” that were apparently uncovered by the Attorney General’s COVID-19 Task Force investigation of Hope Medical and asked the facility to submit a corrective action plan to remedy the issues.

          • First, Dr. Guidry’s letter indicated that instead of evaluating each patient to determine if the procedure needed meets the “emergency only” rule, Hope made a blanket determination that abortion is “time-sensitive” and an “essential component of comprehensive healthcare.” Hope also asserted that abortion services cannot be safely postponed for 30 days. Following this, Dr. Guidry correctly stated that this blanket statement does not “comport with the intent and language of the order.”
          • Second, the letter shows the Shreveport abortion facility has seen a large number of out-of-state patients and has scheduled abortion procedures through the first week of May. Dr. Guidry correctly pointed out that these facts are evidence that the procedures in question are not emergencies.
          • Third, the investigation showed that Hope scheduled appointments with patients as they called to request elective abortion, so therefore, the scheduling of procedures was based not on whether the patient conditions were emergent or not, but the capacity of the facility. In addition, when patient files were examined, the reasons for the abortion did not meet the definition of an emergency medical condition.

          The letter ends with Dr. Guidry’s request for a corrective action plan from Hope by April 17, 2020.  Louisiana Right to Life has not yet obtained that response.

          Fifth Circuit Opinion Gives Louisiana
          Even Further Legal Backing for Action

          Also on Monday, April 20, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals released an opinion that has the effect of upholding Texas’ pandemic-related public health order to postpone all elective abortions, whether surgical or chemically induced. The Fifth Circuit allowed only abortions reaching  the legal limit of 22 weeks gestation through April 22, 2020, the expiration of the elective surgery and procedure notice.

          Read That Opinion Here

          While the opinion relates to Texas’ policy, it is instructive for Louisiana, which is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fifth Circuit as well. Gov. Edwards therefore has the backing of a federal appellate court to enforce his order on Louisiana outpatient abortion facilities.

          Dr. Guidry’s Public Statements Are Confusing
          and Inconsistent With Real Operations of Abortion Facilities

          On Monday, April 20, during Gov. Edwards’ COVID-19 press conference regarding an updated order for medical and surgical procedures (NOTICE #2020-COVID19-ALL-010) set to go into effect on Monday, April 27, Dr. Guidry seemed to indicate that the only abortions that should be allowed in Louisiana during this next phase are those abortions, as determined by the provider, that are of a “time-sensitive nature.” Guidry’s comments seem to indicate that “time-sensitive” is to be defined as those of an emergency nature, when the “life of the mother” is in jeopardy, or when the abortion is approaching the legal limit of the 20th week of gestation. Yet, since the beginning of the state’s emergency orders, all elective abortions have been scheduled and proceeded without consequence and despite notice to Dr. Guidry that the emergency health orders are being disregarded by outpatient abortion facilities. 

          According to 2019 abortion statistics provided by the Louisiana Department of Health, 91% of Louisiana abortions occurred in the 12th week of pregnancy or earlier, much sooner than the legal limit of 20 weeks gestation. If Dr. Guidry’s description of “time-sensitive” when it comes to abortion is duly enforced, then very few abortions would be permitted under the upcoming LDH order, much less the current order.

          In reality, abortion businesses in Louisiana have been open for all elective abortions for Louisiana and out-of-state women, according to Dr. Guidry’s own April 15 letter to Hope.  If abortion facilities have disregarded the current order without consequence, it is to be expected that they will disregard the “time-sensitive” only order that goes in effect on April 27. 

          Abortion business are once again putting profits over patients. Without strong and clear action from Gov. Edwards and his administration, Louisiana will continue to be the COVID-19 abortion tourism hub of the South. In addition, the public will remain confused as to the state’s pandemic policy and lack of public health enforcement.

          Statement from Louisiana Right to Life
          Executive Director Benjamin Clapper

          “In response to a state emergency health directive in the middle of a deadly pandemic, as numerous other serious medical procedures were being postponed, Hope Medical Group for Women made a callous blanket policy that not a single one of its elective abortion procedures should be delayed. Hope did not even attempt to make a patient-by-patient evaluation of which procedures constituted an emergency; they simply decided the order did not apply to them. Hope performed elective abortions on out-of-state patients, booked appointments for weeks in advance, and scheduled every patient just from an over the phone inquiry. While we have not seen investigation results from the Attorney General’s COVID-19 Task Force visit to other facilities, we are assuming from their packed parking lots that the results will not appear much different.

          “When presented with this evidence of a complete disregard for LDH policy, the Edwards Administration should have ordered Hope Medical Group for Women to cease performing non-emergency elective abortions immediately while a corrective action plan was developed and submitted to LDH. Instead, Hope has continued to remain open since the investigation. While Louisiana Right to Life has not seen any response by Hope to the LDH letter, from a basic glance at the abortion facility’s parking lot, nothing seems to have changed from Hope’s documented violations.

          “Now, as LDH looks to a new COVID-19 policy as outlined by Dr. Guidry, abortion facilities are poised again to conclude that their elective abortion business is exempt. Dr. Guidry’s statements and that lack of action from the Edwards Administration has confused Louisiana citizens who have taken great strides to radically alter their way of life. Louisiana needs clear communication and action from Gov. Edwards and Dr. Guidry.

          “We understand the challenges that Gov. Edwards and the Department of Health have faced in fighting COVID-19 and the difficulty in enforcing emergency orders statewide at the same time.  These abortion facilities, intent on ignoring public health to follow their own rules, have caused this problem. However, it is incumbent on Gov. Edwards and his administration to issue clear consequences and policy when presented with citizen concerns and evidence of blatant violations. Otherwise, the public health is threatened, and precedent is established that facilities like these are above the law even in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

          “The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has made it clear: Public health emergencies permit a state to take measures needed to protect public health and safety, even if constitutional protections are curtailed.  

          “Louisiana Right to Life calls on Gov. Edwards to decisively act and issue clear communication of his emergency policy regarding elective abortion. We ask the Department of Health to hold abortion facilities accountable for their violations of the order. Finally, we urge the State Board of Medical Examiners to investigate physicians at these facilities in accord with their ‘zero-tolerance.'”

          Louisiana Right to Life has sent a letter to Gov. Edwards urging him to enforce the LDH order. You can read that letter here.