April 1, 2014 — A federal judge on Monday ordered a trial to determine the constitutionality of an Alabama law (HB 57) that requires physicians who perform abortions in the state to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, Reuters reports (Gates, Reuters, 3/31).
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson previously issued a temporary injunction to block enforcement of the law. Both sides had asked Thompson to issue summary judgment, meaning the judge would rule on the law based on legal arguments rather than a trial (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/11).
Planned Parenthood Southeast, Reproductive Health Services and the American Civil Liberties Union have said that the law is potentially unconstitutional because it could close three of the state's five abortion clinics (Reuters, 3/31). The state has argued that the regulations are a constitutional means of protecting fetal life, which the state says it has a legitimate interest in doing (Lyman, Montgomery Advertiser, 3/31).
Thompson, in an 86-page opinion, rejected the request for summary judgment and said a trial should be held to determine whether the law violates women's constitutional rights by imposing a "substantial obstacle" to their access to abortion (Reuters, 3/31).
Thompson wrote that while the court could not yet determine if the law was passed "with a fetal-protective purpose," any statute "which attempts to save fetal lives (that is, stop abortions) by using the state's coercive power to make access to abortion more difficult is interfering with the core of the constitutional abortion right: the right of a woman to make the final decision about whether to have an abortion."
The judge continued, "It is clear that admitting privileges as a prerequisite to obtaining an abortion will save no fetal lives -- unless the requirement closes abortion clinics or reduces their capacity," adding, "Therefore, if [the rule] was intended to protect fetal lives, it operates only through coercive means, specifically by closing down clinics or limiting their capacity."
However, Thompson noted that there is "a genuine dispute of material fact" on how the regulation would affect clinics and whether the clinics could comply with the requirements.
PPSE CEO Staci Fox said that she is "confident the court will ultimately rule on the side of Alabama women, who deserve to make their own private health care decisions without the interference of politicians."
She added that letting the law take effect would close "three-fifths of the licensed health centers that provide safe, legal abortion" in the state and leave "many women without access to safe, constitutionally protected medical care."
Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, an ACLU attorney working on the case, said the law is "just another attempt by politicians to prevent a woman from getting a safe and legal abortion" (Montgomery Advertiser, 3/31).