NEW ORLEANS La. (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge on Sunday temporarily blocked enforcement of a Louisiana law that advocates say would likely have closed all five abortion clinics in the state.
The measure, signed into law by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in June and due to take effect Sept. 1, would require doctors who perform abortions to have patient admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their practice.
However, the judge's ruling means that for the time being doctors can continue to perform legal abortions while seeking such privileges.
"Plaintiffs will be allowed to operate lawfully while continuing their efforts to obtain privileges," Federal Judge John deGravelles wrote in the decision.
A hearing will be scheduled within a month for the judge to make a more permanent ruling on the law.
Abortion rights activists applauded the decision, the latest in a string of rulings against similar measures, saying it would give doctors more time to seek hospital privileges.
"Today’s ruling ensures Louisiana women are safe from an underhanded law that seeks to strip them of their health and rights," said Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which sued to block the law on behalf of three of the state's five clinics.
It was not immediately clear whether the ruling applied to doctors from the two clinics who were not plaintiffs in the suit and have also applied for admitting privileges.
Louisiana is among 11 states that have passed similar laws, with courts recently ruling unconstitutional such measures in Alabama and Mississippi. Key parts of a Texas law that would have shuttered most remaining clinics in that state were blocked by a federal judge on Friday.
Abortion rights campaigners, along with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association, say admitting privileges laws impose medically unnecessary requirements on doctors.
Anti-abortion advocates have countered that the measures aim to protect women's health, though some have also lauded their effect of shuttering clinics.
Only one doctor who performs abortions in Louisiana has hospital admitting privileges, the Center for Reproductive Rights said.
If all other doctors in the state are forced to stop performing abortions, that doctor, fearful for his safety, would stop carrying out the procedure, the group said.
In arguing against the ruling, Louisiana officials said they would not punish doctors performing abortions while their applications for admitting privileges were pending.
Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Sandra Maler and Clarence Fernandez