Supreme Court puts temporary hold on Louisiana abortion restrictions

FILE PHOTO: Anti-abortion marchers rally at the Supreme Court during the 46th annual March for Life in Washington

FILE PHOTO: Anti-abortion marchers rally at the Supreme Court during the 46th annual March for Life in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

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By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday temporarily prevented a Louisiana law imposing strict regulations on abortion clinics from taking effect in a case that presents a key test on the contentious issue following last year's retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, a key supporter of abortion rights.

A one-page order issued by Justice Samuel Alito said that "the justices need time to review" the various court filings before making a decision on the emergency application filed by Shreveport-based abortion provider Hope Medical Group for Women to block the law.

Alito said that the restrictions, which were to go into effect on Monday, will be put on hold until at least Feb. 7.

Hope Medical Group challenged the law's requirement that doctors who perform abortions must have a difficult-to-obtain formal relationship called "admitting privileges" at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of where the procedure will be performed.

Lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights group that represents the challengers, said the law could force the closure of two of the three abortion clinics operating in Louisiana, a state of more than 4.6 million people.

The Republican-backed law was passed in 2014 but courts have prevented it from going into effect. The Supreme Court itself blocked the law in 2016, two days after hearing another major case involving a similar Texas measure that the justices eventually struck down.

Kennedy, a conservative who retired in July 2018, had voted to preserve abortion rights in pivotal 1992 and 2016 cases. Republican President Donald replaced Kennedy with Brett Kavanaugh, one of two appointees who are part of the court's 5-4 conservative majority, along with Neil Gorsuch.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

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