BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The Louisiana Attorney General’s office has activated a task force to help make sure medically licensed facilities are complying with statewide emergency directives amid the coronavirus pandemic, including abortion clinics in Shreveport and Baton Rouge.
Emergency orders issued March 21 by the Louisiana Department of Health suspended all elective, non-emergency medical procedures and surgeries until further notice.
The activation of the task force comes two weeks after Landry’s office alleged the abortion clinic in Shreveport was operating in violation of the order and called on interim LDH Secretary Stephen Russo to enforce it and shut the clinic down.
“LDH and Interim Secretary Russo have requested our assistance with enforcing their important public health orders, such as those requiring the suspension of elective, non-emergency medical procedures,” said Attorney General Jeff Landry in a statement announcing the task force Thursday.
Landry said the task force was activated “in response to LDH referrals of possible violations, performing fact-finding examinations of several Louisiana facilities,” including and endoscopy center in Shreveport, as well as outpatient abortion clinics in Shreveport and Baton Rouge.
“All instances of non-compliance with these important directives not only put patients and staff at risk, they also divert much needed Personal Protective Equipment away from the brave medical professionals currently treating Louisiana’s coronavirus patients,” added Landry. “My COVID-19 Task Force is ready for action and currently receiving referrals from LDH on possible violations. We are happy to be doing our part to protect the health and safety of all Louisianans by freeing up essential LDH resources and employees that are indispensable on the front-lines of this fight.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal advocacy organization representing the Shreveport clinic, has said services provided at Hope Medical Group provides are essential.
“Abortion is essential, time-sensitive health care that must remain available during this pandemic–particularly because every pregnancy is unique and may pose significant health risks. Hope Medical Group is seeing patients and complying with all LDH guidance and CDC recommendations,” said Kelly Krause.
The LDH order includes exceptions for medical procedures in order to treat “an emergency medical condition…such that the absence of immediate medical attention could reasonably be expected to result in: (a) Placing the Health of the individual or, with respect to a pregnant woman, the health of the woman or her unborn child) in serious jeopardy…”
Asked during his daily briefing Thursday whether abortions are considered an elective procedure, Gov. John Bel Edwards said it would depend on the conditions under which one was performed. He said the task force, which includes the state’s board of medical examiners along with the Louisiana Department of Health and Attorney General’s office, are working on making those determinations.
“We are trying to ascertain now whether any of these clinics are in violation of the orders that have been issued by the Louisiana Department of Health that stop non-emergency medical procedures in order to try to conserve PPE that could be used in the fight against COVID.”
Shreveport police have investigated complaints that the clinic was violating the governor’s stay at home orders and they say they have found no violations of guidance requiring gatherings to be minimized to ten people or less and allowing for six-foot distancing.
The Hope Medical Group for Women is one of three in the state that provides abortions to women, and it is challenging a state law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Russo and former Secretary of the State Department of Health and Hospitals Dr. Rebekah Gee are named as defendants in the suit. The Supreme Court heard the case on March 4. Opinions are typically handed down during the months of May and June. It’s not clear yet whether an opinion in the case can still be expected during that time frame due to the coronavirus pandemic.