December 9, 2015 — The Alabama Committee of Public Health on Wednesday rejected proposed rules that would have allowed exceptions to a state antiabortion-rights law (HB 57), the Alabama Media Group reports (Cason, Alabama Media Group, 12/16).
The law mandates that abortion clinics 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.
The 2014 ruling did not apply to the sole clinic in Tuscaloosa, the West Alabama Women's Center. The clinic closed in January 2015 because it could not meet the admitting privileges requirement or contract with a physician who has admitting privileges. 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.
In August, U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson issued a restraining order against the law and followed up with an opinion stating that the law was unnecessary to protect women's health. The ruling has allowed the clinic to reopen. The temporary restraining order will remain in place until a final judgement is made in the case (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/17).
Details of Proposed Rules
On Wednesday, the State Committee on Public Health voted 8-5 to reject proposed rules that would have created an exception for clinics unable to meet the admitting privileges requirement.
Under the proposed rules, clinics granted an exception to the law would have had to have physicians available for consultation if any patient requires hospitalization. Clinic staff also would receive training on the standard of care and treatment protocol for patients who experience complications from an abortion.
According to AL.com, the committee's decision does not have an immediate effect on clinics in the state, as the only abortion facility that does not meet HB 57's requirements is operating under a waiver. AL.com reports that the West Alabama Women's Center received a year-long waiver from then-State Health Officer Don Williamson after Thompson issued the restraining order.
Acting State Health Officer Tom Miller said state officials would review the decision and determine how to proceed on the proposed rules.
Separately, committee member Eli Brown, a Birmingham-based ob-gyn, said the proposed rules would have protected safe access to abortion, and that denying such access will only force women to attempt self-induced abortion (Alabama Media Group, 12/16).