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Federal Judge Strikes Down Wis. Admitting Privileges Law

Federal Judge Strikes Down Wis. Admitting Privileges Law

March 23, 2015 — A federal judge on Friday struck down as unconstitutional a Wisconsin law (Act 37) that requires physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, Reuters reports (Reuters, 3/21).

Background

The law states that doctors who provide abortions in Wisconsin must have admitting privileges at a hospital located within 30 miles of the facility where they practice. U.S. District Judge William Conley placed a temporary hold on the law in July 2013, after Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Civil Liberties Union challenged it in court (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/3/14).

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Affiliated Medical Services, two abortion providers involved in the challenge, said that the law would restrict access to abortion in Wisconsin (AP/LaCrosse Tribune, 3/21). The plaintiffs argued that the admitting privileges requirement would cause the largest of the state's four abortion providers to close immediately and that the other three facilities would not be able to handle the increased demand (Peters, Wall Street Journal, 3/22).

In defending the law, attorneys for the state said it would ensure that there is continuity of care if a woman requires hospitalization for abortion-related complications (AP/Lacrosse Tribune, 3/21).

Ruling Details

On Friday, Conley ordered a permanent injunction against the law. In a 91-page opinion, he said it violated the 14th Amendment.

"The marginal benefit to women's health of requiring hospital admitting privileges, if any, is substantially outweighed by the burden this requirement will have on women's health outcomes due to restricted access to abortions in Wisconsin," the judge wrote, adding, "While the court agrees with the State that sometimes it is necessary to reduce access to insure safety, this is decidedly not one of those instances" (Reuters, 3/21).

Further, Conley noted there is no rational basis for treating physicians who perform abortions differently than those who perform other outpatient procedures that are equally or more risky. "The court is, if anything, more convinced that the admitting privileges requirement in Act 37 'remains a solution in search of a problem,' unless that problem is access to abortion itself," he wrote (Wall Street Journal, 3/22).

Reaction

Laurel Patrick, a spokesperson for Gov. Scott Walker (R), said, "Our office will work with the attorney general to appeal this ruling, and we believe the law will ultimately be upheld" (Bice/Spivak, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/20).

Similar admitting privileges laws have faced court challenges in other states. Renee Paradis, an American Civil Liberties Union senior staff attorney, said that while the Wisconsin case adds to abortion-rights supporters' victories in court challenges to such laws, the issue likely will remain unsettled until the Supreme Court rules on the topic (Wall Street Journal, 3/22).

The Supreme Court last June denied Wisconsin's request to consider the law (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/24/14).

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin CEO Teri Huyck in a statement said, "We all want to protect patient safety -- this law doesn't do that. Politicians passed this law in order to make it extremely difficult for women in Wisconsin to get safe and legal abortions, plain and simple" (Reuters, 3/21).