U.S. District Judge John de Gravelles of Baton Rouge granted the doctors a temporary restraining order late Sunday, a day before the law took effect. He said the TRO will remain in place until he decides whether to grant the doctors' request for an injunction.
Kyle Duncan, a lawyer for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, said the state had already announced that doctors who were applying for admitting privileges could continue to perform abortions and the judge's ruling simply ratifies that. William Rittenberg, who represents the plaintiffs, said they were not satisfied with the state's declaration of "no intent" to prosecute.
The plaintiffs argued that enforcing the law could have required all of Louisiana's five abortion clinics to close. Critics of the law and similar ones in other states say they are designed to put clinics out of business, not to protect women's health, because hospitals are under pressure not to grant privileges to doctors who perform abortions and many doctors travel from other states to do so.
The doctors' risk of penalties, including losing their licenses, outweighed the state's interest in enforcing the law, de Gravelles said.
Ben Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, said the ruling applies only to the four plaintiffs and allows the state to begin enforcing the law for other doctors.
"We think it's a fair decision and we look forward to full implementation," Clapper said.
The judge plans to hold a status conference within a month on a permanent injunction.