August 17, 2015 — A federal judge on Thursday issued a temporary restraining order against an Alabama law (HB 57) that could have permanently shut down an abortion clinic in Tuscaloosa, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Chandler, AP/Sacramento Bee, 8/14).
The law mandates that abortion clinics must meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers. The law also requires that abortion providers have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Alternatively, clinics can arrange a written agreement with a local physician who has admitting privileges.
Three Alabama abortion clinics -- Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery and Planned Parenthood Southeast health centers in Birmingham and Mobile -- filed suit challenging the law in 2013. A federal judge temporarily blocked the law shortly after the lawsuit was filed, later issuing an opinion that struck down the admitting privileges requirement as applied to the plaintiffs in August 2014. The state has appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/15).
According to RH Reality Check, the 2014 ruling did not apply to the sole clinic in Tuscaloosa, the West Alabama Women's Center. The clinic has been closed since January 2015 because it cannot meet the admitting privileges requirement or contract with a physician who has admitting privileges (Mason Pieklo, RH Reality Check, 8/14).
In July, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama filed a federal suit against the law on behalf of the West Alabama Women's Center and Willie Parker, a physician who provides abortion care at the clinic. According to the lawsuit, the admitting privileges requirement could force the clinic to close because the sole hospital in Tuscaloosa "is unwilling to grant Dr. Parker [admitting] privileges for reasons unrelated to his competency as an abortion provider." The plaintiffs added that the regulations are aimed exclusively at abortion providers and do not include physicians who provide different office-based medical procedures that are less safe. In addition, ACLU noted that the Tuscaloosa clinic provides about 40% of abortions in the state and is one of only two clinics in the state that offer abortion services for women in their second trimester of pregnancy (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/15).
U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson earlier this month issued a restraining order against the law and on Thursday followed up with an opinion stating that the law was unnecessary to protect women's health.
According to the AP/Bee, the latest ruling has allowed the clinic to reopen (AP/Sacramento Bee, 8/14). The temporary restraining order will remain in place until a final judgement is made in the case.
Thompson in the ruling wrote, "(T)his court should not stand by to allow a woman's fundamental right to obtain an abortion to be subverted" by a "confluence of violence and hostility to abortions" (RH Reality Check, 8/14). Further, Thompson noted, "For all Alabama women, the closure of the largest abortion provider in the state, one of two providers in the state that administers abortions after 16 weeks, has reduced the number of abortions that can be provided here." He added that "closing the Center has increased the risk that women will take their abortion into their own hands."
Thompson also noted that the clinic had few cases of complications and could provide appropriate follow-up care through a hotline for patients that puts them in touch with the abortion provider. In addition, Thompson noted that antiabortion-rights protests could make physicians reluctant to work with abortion providers.
Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a staff attorney at ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, said, "The decision recognizes this regulation is completely unnecessary and that closing one of the last remaining abortion clinics in the state would have prevented women from receiving essential and high quality care" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 8/14).
Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said the ruling "restores the ability of West Alabama Women's Center to provide much needed services" (RH Reality Check, 8/14).
Meanwhile, Brian Hale, general counsel for the state Department of Public Health, said the agency is reviewing the ruling (AP/Sacramento Bee, 8/14).