Doctor's Incorrect Declaration Shines Light on Confusion Over Wis. Admitting Privileges Law

July 30, 2013 — An affidavit filed by a doctor in support of Wisconsin's new abortion regulations (SB 206) included inaccurate information, demonstrating the confusion over whether abortion providers will be able to gain hospital admitting privileges if the law is upheld in court, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (Ahmed, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7/26).

Under the law, abortion providers are required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. U.S. District Judge William Conley earlier this month extended a temporary injunction by two weeks on the law's admitting privileges requirement. Conley originally issued a temporary injunction on July 8, after Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit seeking to block the law from taking effect earlier this month as scheduled. That injunction was intended to stay the law until a July 17 hearing.

The law also requires a woman seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound at least 24 hours before the procedure. In addition, it mandates that the doctor or individual performing the ultrasound try to detect the fetal heartbeat, as well as describe the size, location and number of fetuses, and any body parts or organs that are visible. The woman would not be required to look at the ultrasound images or heartbeat monitor, and the bill would not apply in cases of rape, incest or emergencies (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/19).

Conley will decide this week whether to issue a temporary injunction to block the law for months. A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 25 to consider whether the law is constitutional.

Disagreement Over Ease of Obtaining Admitting Privileges

The law's opponents say doctors likely will face difficulty obtaining admitting privileges from hospitals because many of Wisconsin's hospitals have religious affiliations and some require doctors with admitting privileges to admit a certain number of patients annually.

Supporters of the law say such claims are an exaggeration. In a court filing, Matthew Lee -- a member of the credentials committee at Wheaton Franciscan St. Joseph Campus in Milwaukee -- said, "I am unaware of any absolute bar at religiously affiliated Wisconsin hospitals against competent abortion providers seeking or receiving admitting privileges."

However, Rita Hanson, chief medical officer at Wheaton Franciscan, in an email said, "[I]f it's known to us that a doctor performs abortions and that doctor applies for privileges at one of our hospitals, our hospital board would not grant privileges." Hanson said Lee might have been unaware of the hospital's policy because the issue has not been raised in several years.

In response to Lee's declaration, Planned Parenthood attorney Lester Pines on Wednesday suggested that Lee -- who is a member of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists -- might have been influenced by his personal feelings. Pines said, "I'm not going to accuse him of being deliberately misleading." He noted, "When people provide declarations, sometimes they make mistakes," adding, "When people make declarations which presume to be objective declarations made by experts but when they are really advocates, then the danger of overstatement or error is greater."

According to attorneys involved in the case, doctors at abortion clinics who lack admitting privileges are in the process of applying for such privileges (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7/26).

Abortion Clinic Expected To Close in Wis.

The last abortion clinic in Green Bay, Wis., is expected to shut down this week after it is bought out by Bellin Health, which does not perform abortions, WGBA-TV/NBC26 reports.

Bellin Health -- one the area's biggest hospitals -- is reportedly buying out OB/GYN Associates, which has been performing abortions for more than 30 years. However, under Bellin's policy, abortions would no longer be permitted at the clinic.

Bellin has declined to comment on the buyout, saying it is against the hospital's policy to "verify or provide comments on potential or existing business negotiations." Bellin said it would release more information later this week (Lamal, WGBA-TV/NBC26, 7/27).