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Federal Judge Finds Ala. Admitting Privileges Law Unconstitutional

Federal Judge Finds Ala. Admitting Privileges Law Unconstitutional

August 5, 2014 — A federal judge on Monday ruled that an Alabama law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals is unconstitutional because it imposes an "impermissible undue burden" on the state's five clinics, the Wall Street Journal reports (McWhirter, Wall Street Journal, 8/4).

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson began hearing arguments in the trial in May after rejecting summary judgment requests from the state and the plaintiffs. He issued a temporary restraining order against the law to keep it from taking effect until a final judgment is issued (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/11).

A spokesperson for Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) said he would appeal the decision (Wall Street Journal, 8/4).

Monday's Ruling

Thompson on Monday said the law was unconstitutional, writing, "If this requirement would not, in the face of all the evidence in the record, constitute an impermissible undue burden ... then almost no regulation, short of those imposing an outright prohibition on abortion, would."

Thompson noted that three clinics -- located in Montgomery, Birmingham and Mobile -- could not meet the law's requirements because abortion providers working there do not live nearby. A local residence is required for admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Thompson said that if the three clinics were to close, only clinics in Huntsville and Tuscaloosa would remain open, seriously hindering women's access to abortion services in the state (Eckholm, New York Times, 8/4).

Thompson also noted that the state's argument about how the law would improve the quality of care for abortion patients was "exceedingly weak" (Wall Street Journal, 8/4).

According to Reuters, Thompson's ruling keeps in place the temporary injunction issued against the law (Gates, Reuters, 8/4). Thompson has requested additional information from attorneys in the case before he issues a final order (AP/Clarion-Ledger, 8/4).

Implications

According to the Times, the ruling "adds to a swirl of contradictory court decisions" on the admitting privileges requirement, particularly among states in the South (New York Times, 8/4). Roughly 11 states have passed admitting privileges requirements, resulting in the closure of clinics in Texas and other states (Wall Street Journal, 8/4).

Comments

In a statement, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said "we are extremely disappointed by today's ruling," adding, "I will always fight for the rights of the unborn, and support an appeal of today's decision" (New York Times, 8/4).

Meanwhile, Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, praised the ruling. "The justifications offered for this law are weak at best," she said, adding, "Politicians, not doctors, crafted this law for the sole purpose of shutting down women's health care centers and preventing women from getting safe, legal abortions" (Wall Street Journal, 8/4).