By MELINDA DESLATTE / Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Abortion rights supporters Tuesday applauded the decision of Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration to shelve its rewritten licensing regulations for Louisiana's abortion clinics, but they worry the clinics have won only a temporary reprieve.
"We were loud, and we were heard. But this is not over -- far from it," said Bethany Van Kampen, a board member of the New Orleans Abortion Fund, at a protest outside the Department of Health and Hospitals building.
The New Orleans Abortion Fund, which gives financial help to women who can't afford the procedure's cost, and other abortion rights groups said the now-rescinded licensing rules would have shuttered Louisiana's five abortion clinics.
The health department enacted the new regulations before Thanksgiving and was working to put them into place permanently. But the 20 pages of rewritten licensing standards drew a firestorm of criticism, and DHH announced late Monday that it was scrapping the regulations and would rewrite them again.
DHH said it's trying to protect patients, while also consolidating two years of regulations enacted in a piecemeal fashion as state legislators passed new abortion laws.
"We will work diligently to complete a new (set of rules) that offers clarity and consistency and furthers our primary objective of protecting the health and safety of Louisiana residents," department spokeswoman Olivia Watkins said in an email statement.
About three dozen supporters of the state's abortion clinics protested at the DHH building Tuesday. They also delivered 6,000 written comments about the now-scrapped regulations, in the hopes of getting to weigh in before the next rules are written.
"Most of them are just telling the department to stop passing regulations that are trying to shut down the clinics," said Ellie Schilling, a New Orleans lawyer representing the clinics. "We would hope that if they do intend to revise them that they would work with the providers on regulations that are common sense."
Schilling said the now-rescinded licensing standards went far beyond the limitations and requirements that are in state law. She said DHH added new paperwork, mandated clinic buildings to be larger than they currently are, and increased staffing requirements, while eliminating certain appeal rights.
She said the changes seemed aimed at making it impossible for clinics to comply with the rules, in a backdoor attempt to force their closure.
Language also was added into the standards that would have required a pregnant woman to get a blood test 30 days before she could seek an abortion. Critics said that added a new waiting period not required under state law and could make it impossible for some women to get an abortion before the 20-week deadline of pregnancy.
Anti-abortion organizations defended the rescinded standards, saying they were designed to ensure abortion clinics meet the requirements of other health facilities.
"DHH has been under strident attack for the last two weeks by aggressive abortion profiteers who support the deregulation of the abortion industry in Louisiana," said Gene Mills, president of the conservative Louisiana Family Forum, in a statement.
DHH hasn't said when it will issue the new set of regulations, and Schilling said the clinics haven't gotten any assurances that they will be included in the discussions before the rewritten rules are released.
"We frequently work with providers and stakeholders on rule changes, including using their questions to clarify language," Watkins said.