May 19, 2014 — A trial begins in federal court on Monday over the constitutionality of an Alabama law (HB 57) that requires physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, the AP/Memphis Commercial Appeal reports (Rawls, AP/Memphis Commercial Appeal, 5/18).
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson scheduled the trial last month after rejecting summary judgment requests from the state and the plaintiffs. He said a trial is needed to determine whether the law violates women's constitutional rights by imposing a "substantial obstacle" to their access to abortion. Thompson extended a temporary restraining order against the law to keep it from taking effect until a final judgment is issued (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/4).
Thompson has scheduled testimony through June 5 and will rule at a later date.
Planned Parenthood Southeast and the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit. According to the AP/Commercial Appeal, PPSE clinics in Birmingham and Mobile, as well as Reproductive Health Systems in Montgomery, will have to close if the law takes effect because they employ traveling physicians who do not have admitting privileges. The West Alabama Women's Center in Tuscaloosa and the Alabama Women's Center in Huntsville employ local physicians who already have admitting privileges, the AP/Commercial Appeal reports.
Supporters of the law said traveling doctors are problematic because they are only in town temporarily and are not around to handle complications that might develop later.
Staff for the Alabama attorney general's office wrote in a court filing that the state intends to present witnesses, including physicians, who will testify that having physicians on hand to handle complications and admit patients improves the quality of care women receive. In addition, the AG's office argued that more credentialing is needed because one of the physicians who performs abortions in the state is under federal prosecution for alleged Medicaid fraud.
Meanwhile, the plaintiffs have argued that abortion is among the safest medical procedures. Physicians cannot obtain the admitting privileges because they do not admit enough patients to meet the hospitals' requirements or hospitals refuse to grant them because of the controversy surrounding abortion care, according to the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs said the law is not really intended to increase quality of care but to reduce women's access to abortion and make them travel farther to obtain the procedure (AP/Memphis Commercial Appeal, 5/18).