BATON ROUGE, La. -- A group of abortion clinics sued the state health department Monday over a new law that gives Louisiana's health secretary more discretion to shut down an abortion clinic for safety or health concerns.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the lawsuit for the clinics, said the Department of Health and Hospitals isn't allowing clinics the ability to correct alleged deficiencies before revoking a clinic's license.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in New Orleans, says the law deprives the clinics of basic protections given to other licensed health care facilities in the state and encourages discriminatory enforcement against them.

'This law leaves abortion facilities vulnerable to arbitrary and inconsistent treatment by the health department and ultimately harms women's health instead of protecting it,' said Bonnie Scott Jones, with the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement.

The department's regulations allow, for example, a clinic's license to be revoked and the clinic to be closed immediately if it doesn't have its patient records in watertight containers as required, the lawsuit says.

Previously, abortion clinics could continue to operate while appealing a license suspension.

DHH has said the new law protects the health and safety of women. Rep. Fred Mills, D-Parks, sponsor of the law, said the change puts the health secretary's authority over outpatient abortion clinics in line with the authority he has over other kinds of health care facilities, like substance abuse and adult day care facilities.

The court challenge comes after DHH earlier this month immediately suspended the license of a Shreveport abortion clinic, Hope Medical Group for Women, when inspectors said they found safety concerns there and violations of state health standards. The clinic reopened last week after a judge overturned the state closure order until a hearing could be held on the license suspension appeal.

The Center for Reproductive Rights said the clinic's license was suspended even though the facility had corrected most of the alleged deficiencies, except for some record-keeping issues.

Five abortion clinics and a doctor who performs abortions are listed as plaintiffs. Hope Medical Group for Women is not named as a plaintiff. The doctor is listed only as John Doe to prevent his name from being publicly disclosed.

The case was assigned to Judge Martin L.C. Feldman.

A separate lawsuit was previously filed in Baton Rouge federal court challenging a new state law that bars medical malpractice coverage for doctors who perform elective abortions. That lawsuit is pending.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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