NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal appeals court planned to hear arguments Wednesday on a lawsuit claiming the state of Louisiana is needlessly and illegally delaying a license enabling Planned Parenthood to perform abortions at a new facility in New Orleans.
Louisiana officials are seeking dismissal of the lawsuit, which was filed in February by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and Planned Parenthood Center for Choice. U.S. District Judge John deGravelles in Baton Rouge refused to dismiss the case in May. The state appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which scheduled arguments for late Wednesday morning.
An immediate ruling was not expected.
Planned Parenthood lawyers say the case should continue. And they accuse health officials under Gov. John Bel Edwards, an anti-abortion Democrat, of using "sham" investigations as an excuse to delay the licensing of the Planned Parenthood clinic.
The office of Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican who is often critical of Edwards on other issues, is defending the state.
The lawsuit includes background on what Planned Parenthood says are numerous efforts by Louisiana, dating to the administration of former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, to block access to abortion. They include attempts to block Medicaid funding for non-abortion medical services at Planned Parenthood clinics, so far thwarted by the courts; and a law, signed in 2016 by Edwards, that blocks state funding for any organization that provides abortion in the state.
An August brief filed by attorneys for the state says Louisiana is acting within the law in the licensure matter. It says Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and Planned Parenthood Center for Choice are involved in "multiple state and federal investigations" and that the Louisiana health department "is therefore bound to hold its final decision on the application until more information develops."
Planned Parenthood lawyers say the state has referenced allegations that Planned Parenthood profited from sales of fetal tissue for medical research — allegations that the abortion provider says were contained in deceptively edited videos circulated online by abortion opponents.
Investigations sparked by the videos in several states didn't result in criminal charges.
Planned Parenthood, which does not currently perform abortions in Louisiana, says a hostile legal and political environment in Louisiana has reduced the number of abortion clinics in the state from seven in 2010 to three as of last year.