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DHH abortion regs criticized 

Hearing on changes scheduled Feb. 4

  A little-noticed "emergency" order issued last November by the state Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) has wide-ranging implications for Louisiana facilities that perform abortions. Among the changes: revised building standards and the requirement of a registered nurse in every room where an abortion is performed (rather than in the recovery room).

  The biggest change: a new deadline requiring women seeking abortions to get blood tests 30 days before the procedure. Current practice is for women to have blood tests within 24 hours of receiving an abortion. Critics of the law say the earlier blood panel is both unnecessary and useless, as month-old tests would be meaningless.

  In 2012, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a bill prohibiting abortions in the state more than 20 weeks after conception. The new mandate, which was issued before public comment was held, would effectively shorten that time to 16 weeks for any woman who did not take the required blood tests.

  DHH Press Secretary Olivia Watkins told The Nation last week that language about the blood test would be stricken and that the building standards would be applied to new facilities only. Amy Irvin, a founder of the New Orleans Abortion Fund, told Gambit last week, "We have not seen any kind of updated or revised document, so we can't be sure of that."

  A DHH hearing on the new regulations, originally scheduled for Jan. 29, was canceled due to last week's winter weather; it has been rescheduled for Feb. 4 at 1 p.m. at the Bienville Building in downtown Baton Rouge.

  Liz Wagner, president of Tulane University's Law Students for Reproductive Justice, said the changes in the order were presented "under the guise of improving women's health." Wagner said several groups from New Orleans will attend the hearing.

  Five clinics in the state of Louisiana currently provide abortion services, and a sixth, a 7,000-square-foot clinic to be operated by Planned Parenthood of Louisiana, is under construction on South Claiborne Avenue. The new facility is expected to open later this year or in early 2015.

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