- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Doctors who perform abortions in Louisiana will testify with a screen hiding them from spectators as a federal judge hears a challenge to Louisiana’s law requiring them to be able to admit patients to a hospital within 30 miles.

The law is among hundreds of abortion restrictions passed around the country in the past several years. Lawyers for the state say this one was written to protect women. Opponents contend that it was meant to make essentially impossible to get abortions, and that it will do so.

The doctors sued anonymously, as “John Does,” and a court order has made virtually all information about the clinics, other than the clinics’ names and locations, confidential to protect their staff, physicians and patients.

“The judge will be able to see the witnesses and evaluate the witnesses’ demeanor,” said Ilene Jaroslaw, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York nonprofit representing three of Louisiana’s five abortion clinics. She said such doctors often face violence and intimidation from abortion opponents.

Only one of the six doctors at Louisiana’s five abortion clinics - an obstetrician who also does a few abortions - “unequivocally” would be able to meet the law’s requirements, Jaroslaw said. She said the others all applied for admitting privileges before the suit was filed in August, but have not received them.

Louisiana does not require doctors doing any other sort of procedures to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, the suit contends. “Physicians perform similar, and often higher risk, outpatient procedures in their offices without admitting privileges,” it says.

U.S. District Judge John deGravelles has scheduled a six-day, nonjury trial starting Monday and ending next Monday. His docket notes that both sides have waived opening statements.

That means lawyers will plunge directly into evidence about whether the law would make it unconstitutionally difficult for women to get abortions and whether legislators passed it to keep women from getting abortions.

Washington attorney Kyle Duncan and Natalie Decker of the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based conservative legal nonprofit, are defending the state. Duncan did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Thursday.

Duncan has asked deGravelles (duh-GRAV-uhl) to throw out claims that the law was passed to keep women from getting abortions, saying the claim was erased by a federal appeals court ruling for a Texas law that required clinics to meet hospital standards as well as requiring doctors to have admitting privileges.

The clinics responded by arguing that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling is not final and will be appealed.

David Brown, a Center for Reproductive Rights attorney who is working on both the Texas and Louisiana lawsuits, said attorneys will ask the nation’s highest court sometime this summer to consider the Texas ruling.

“We won’t necessarily know by July whether the Supreme Court will review the case or not. But we’ll know at least whether the 5th Circuit ruling in the Texas case will be stayed” by the high court or the full 5th Circuit, he said.

The 5th Circuit sets law for Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi unless the Supreme Court overturns it.

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