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Federal Judge Blocks Law Threatening Wis. Abortion Clinics

Federal Judge Blocks Law Threatening Wis. Abortion Clinics

August 5, 2013 — A federal judge on Friday issued a preliminary injunction against a Wisconsin law (SB 206) that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, the Washington Post's "Post Politics" reports. The ruling extends a temporary injunction issued in July. The law is now on hold at least through Nov. 25, when a trial on its constitutionality will begin (Eilperin, "Post Politics," Washington Post, 8/3).

U.S. District Judge William 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 in early July as scheduled. That injunction was intended to stay the law until a July 17 hearing, and Conley on July 18 again extended the injunction by two weeks.

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 requirements would not apply in cases of rape, incest or emergencies (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/19).

According to the Guttmacher Institute, Wisconsin is the eighth state to enact an admitting privileges law. Judges have blocked the requirements in Alabama, Mississippi and for certain providers in Kansas (Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/2).

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In his ruling, Conley said he granted the preliminary injunction because the state is unlikely to prove that the admitting privileges requirement benefits women's health and that the affected providers -- Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services -- likely could demonstrate that the law places undue obstacles on abortion access (AP/New York Times, 8/3).

Conley called the provision a "solution in search of a problem," explaining, "Defendants' position may have some merit if they could articulate a single, actual instance where a provider's lack of admitting privileges has been a factor in an abortion patient's negative outcome or the ability to properly consider or sanction a responsible provider for such an outcome in Wisconsin."

Specifically, the judge said the law creates an undue burden because it would close two of the state's four clinics. The additional distance women would have to travel would make the procedure especially difficult for low-income women to obtain (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/2).

"Given the substantial likelihood of success on the merits and of irreparable harm, the public's interest is best serviced by [a preliminary injunction] until this court can address its merits after trial," Conley wrote.

Comments

Lester Pines -- who represents one of the organizations challenging the law -- said, "The judge has evaluated it and said in no uncertain terms there's not medical basis for this requirement." He added, "What you take from that is the purpose is to put barriers in the way of women getting abortions" (AP/New York Times, 8/3).

Dana Brueck -- spokesperson for state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen (R) -- said the state Department of Justice is reviewing the ruling and determining its next steps (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/2).

Alexa Kolbi-Molinas -- staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project -- said the law is part of a broader attack on women's rights. "This law is just one in an already too-long list of legislation passed this year and designed solely to interfere with a woman’s private medical decisions," Kolbi-Molinas said in a statement, adding, "We will not stand silent as extremist politicians attempt to take away women's access to safe and legal abortion care" ("Post Politics," Washington Post, 8/3).