By Bethany Van Kampen, Board Member, New Orleans Abortion Fund (NOAF) [Left Photo] & Liz Wagner, President, Tulane Law Students for Reproductive Justice [Right Photo]
"Currently I have two kids, a boy and a girl. I’m not financially stable and I just moved back in with my mom because I couldn’t afford the housing. I’m currently preparing myself to go back to school and it’s already hard to get help with my kids."
"This is a personal decision. Who are you to tell me that my situation, my family, my actions are wrong? He without sin be first to cast a stone. This clinic and their staff were phenomenal, kind, informative and helpful. Their services helped me cut the final tie I had to an abusive ex.”
“I am too young. I can’t take care of [a baby] and I need to live my life, such as go to college, get a job, etc. They should not close [clinics] down because [there are] many situations that this is necessary for, such as age [and] rape.”
Testimony by three women read at a celebratory rally, Baton Rouge, February 4, 2014.
On February 4, dozens of allies met on the steps of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) in Baton Rouge to do something that we rarely get to do on the harsh battlefield of reproductive justice work in Louisiana – celebrate a victory. The egregious “Emergency Regulations” that had threatened to allow for the closure of all five of our state’s clinics were rescinded. We celebrated this victory with a pinch of salt, knowing very well that this will not be the end and that DHH will likely re-issue similarly dangerous regulations in coming months. We also read stories of patients, like the ones above, and remembered why we are here, and why we must continue this fight despite the odds.
In 2013, Louisiana received an "F" grade and was ranked dead last for women's health by the Center for American Progress. Rather than taking steps to improve women's health, Louisiana has continued to chip away at women's access to health care under the guise of “protecting women” and “patient safety.”
On November 20, 2013, DHH issued "Emergency Regulations on Abortion Clinic Licensing Standards" which imposed arbitrary building and administrative requirements that serve no medical purpose, but can be prohibitively expensive, such as increasing the square footage at clinics. None of the clinics met those requirements, making it nearly impossible for them to keep the doors open. The regulations also required a medically-unnecessary blood test for patients 30 days prior to an abortion procedure. This would have effectively imposed a month-long mandatory delay for abortion care.
As a regulatory body, DHH is legally entitled to create emergency regulations when, and if, the need arises. However, in this case, no emergency "need" was ever articulated and no Louisiana abortion providers were consulted as these regulations were drafted.
DHH’s so-called “Emergency Regulations” would have a disproportionate impact on low-income and minority women in Louisiana for whom travel, time taken from work, child care and similar difficulties, represent serious and often insurmountable obstacles.
On December 20, DHH issued its Notice of Intent to make the emergency regulations permanent law and a final hearing was scheduled for February 4. The reproductive justice community sprang into action. Press releases were issued and organizations collected comments from members urging DHH to do away with these harmful regulations. With the support of national organizations, our voice was made stronger and we collected more than 6,000 comments and made headlines nationally. We spoke up and we were heard.
While meeting with our Texas allies on February 3, we stumbled upon a tweet alerting us that DHH had rescinded the regulations and would be rescheduling the hearing. Despite the lack of transparency throughout this process, we decided to rally as planned in Baton Rouge and to read the testimonies that we had prepared for the hearing, thus celebrating our first major victory in Louisiana.
The fight in Louisiana is just beginning. We anticipate new and revised regulations from DHH, and Louisiana’s legislative session will begin on March 10. We expect a firestorm of invasive TRAP [Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers] laws and back-door abortion bans.
We need to mobilize and keep the pressure on both DHH and Louisiana legislators. We urge you to join Louisiana women and to stand with us.