State judges temporarily block trigger laws as the battle moves to state courts

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Abortion providers in two states are receiving a temporary reprieve from trigger laws taking effect after the reversal of Roe v Wade. Since the Supreme Court ruling was handed down in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health, lawsuits have been filed by abortion providers to halt trigger laws in Louisiana and Utah. A total of thirteen states have trigger laws that call for a ban on abortions up to 30 days after the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

In Louisiana, New Orleans Judge Robin Giarrusso, a judge at Division G of the Orleans Parish Civil District Court, ruled in favor of plaintiffs in a lawsuit that argues a trigger law violates their due process protections. The plaintiffs, working with the Center for Productive Rights, also claim Louisiana’s trigger law did not include a specific date when abortion would be illegal after Roe v Wade was reversed. Judge Giarrusso’s ruling is a temporary reprieve. It will remain in effect until a July 8 hearing.

Giarrusso’s ruling prompted Louisiana’s three remaining abortion clinics to vow to resume operating, the New York Times said.

Kathaleen Pittman, administrator of one of the clinics, Hope Medical Group for Women, told WRKF that her Shreveport group will again offer abortions beginning Tuesday.

Staffers are reaching out to 400 women who had their appointments canceled after the ruling came down, she said.

“It’s a temporary reprieve,” she said of Monday’s stay. “But it’s a reprieve.”

Giarrusso of Orleans Parish said she will hold an additional hearing next month before deciding if she will extend the current stay.

The Louisiana trigger law only allows abortions when the mother’s life is in jeopardy and does not specify exceptions for rape or incest.

New Orleans is a blue city in a red state. At least one of the state’s three abortion clinics said it would resume performing abortions on Tuesday. “We’re going to do what we can,” said Kathaleen Pittman, administrator of Hope Medical Group for Women, in Shreveport. “It could all come to a screeching halt.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry tweeted a reminder about the trigger law. He’s ready to defend the law in state court, as he did in federal court.

In Utah, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union chapter in Utah filed a lawsuit to halt the state’s trigger law. Judge Andrew Stone of the 3rd District Court in Utah granted a two-week temporary restraining order. Utah’s ban would make abortions a second-degree felony with few exceptions.

“The immediate effects that will occur outweigh any policy issues of the state,” Stone said during the virtual hearing, according to Fox 13, adding that doctors could face felonies and women have medical needs if the ban were enacted.

In the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU called Utah’s trigger law “unconstitutional.” Abortions for about a dozen patients were canceled, Planned Parenthood of Utah wrote in its filing.

“Planned Parenthood of Utah has more than 55 patients scheduled for abortion appointments in the next week, including 12 on Monday, 19 on Tuesday, and 19 on Wednesday,” the lawsuit stated.

Legal action has shifted back to the states with the overturning of Roe v Wade by the Supreme Court. In Florida, pro-abortion activists asked a judge to block a new law that bans abortions after 15 weeks, with some exceptions. It is set to take effect this week. The judge is expected to rule on their request Thursday.

There is confusion in a lot of states. Look for there to be years of legal challenges at the state level now that the Supreme Court’s ruling allows them to make their own laws on abortion.

Abortion rights activists also went to court Monday to try to fend off restrictions in Texas, Idaho, Kentucky and Mississippi, the state at the center of the Supreme Court ruling, while the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona filed an emergency motion there on Saturday seeking to block a 2021 law they worry can be used to halt all abortions.

Jonathan Turley, a professor at the George Washington University law school, said the court’s decision to let states make their own rules about abortion is expected to “result in years of legislative and judicial challenges.”

As of Saturday, abortion services had stopped in at least 11 states — either because of state laws or confusion over them.

It’s going to be a bumpy road for the near future. It is as it should be, though. This is our constitutional republic in action. The issue will be in the hands of elected lawmakers, not nine unelected justices. State lawmakers can address any flaws in their laws. The lawsuits buy time for abortion providers. In Louisiana, for example, the plaintiffs in that lawsuit don’t deny that the state can now ban abortion. They cite the need for clarification on some points.

That’s likely to be the case in Louisiana. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in state court don’t deny that the state can now ban abortion. Instead, they contend Louisiana now has multiple, conflicting trigger mechanisms in the law.

They also argue that 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 lethal abnormalities, the plaintiffs noted the law gives no definition of the term.

Around the country, challenges to other trigger laws could be made on the grounds that the conditions to impose the bans have not been met, or that it was improper for a past legislature to bind the current one.

There is no doubt that other states with trigger laws will also be working with the rulings of state judges this week and in the weeks ahead. Louisiana and Utah are the first but won’t be the last states finding their way now that the Supreme Court has ruled.