Abortion Doctor Requirements Ruled Unconstitutional in Wisconsin
By Daniel Bice and Cary Spivak
A federal judge on Friday struck down a Wisconsin law requiring doctors performing abortions to get hospital-admitting privileges, concluding that the measure was enacted to bar women from getting abortions.
U.S. District Judge William Conley, who earlier had put the law on hold, ruled that the 2013 law is unconstitutional. He issued a permanent injunction blocking its enforcement.
Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services had sued the state, arguing the requirement will force AMS's Milwaukee clinic to close because its doctors can't get admitting privileges.
Madison attorney Lester Pines, who argued the case for Planned Parenthood, said it was clear from the 93-page decision that Conley did not consider the matter a close call.
"This was an overwhelming victory for the rights of women in this state," Pines said late Friday.
A spokeswoman for Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel did not immediately respond to messages for comment. Officials with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who signed the bill into law, also didn't return calls or emails.
Pines said he expects the state to appeal the decision to as high a court as possible.
In a statement, Planned Parenthood said only four health centers provide abortions in Wisconsin. If the law took effect, the group said, the largest of those centers would be forced to close immediately, leaving the remaining three unable "to absorb the unmet need."
The groups argued that would amount to restricting access to abortions in Wisconsin. State attorneys contended the mandate will ensure continuity of care for women hospitalized with abortion complications.
"We all want to protect patient safety _ this law doesn't do that, as the court recognized," said Teri Huyck, head of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. "Politicians passed this law in order to make it extremely difficult for women in Wisconsin to get safe and legal abortions, plain and simple."
In the first words of his strongly worded decision, Conley said he had little regard for the new law. The decision was issued late Friday after a trial in Conley's Madison court.
"For reasons left largely unexplained at the time of its enactment, the Wisconsin Legislature and Gov. Walker signed (the bill)," Conley wrote.
Conley noted the requirement provided only "marginal benefit" a women's health while violating her rights to liberty and privacy as guaranteed in the 14th Amendment.
"In particular," Conley wrote "the State has failed to meet its burden of demonstrating...a link between the admitting privileges requirement and a legitimate health interest."
In his ruling, Conley wrote that the health advantage provided by the measure "is substantially outweighed by the burden this requirement will have on women's health outcomes due to restricted access to abortions in Wisconsin."
"While the court agrees with the State that sometimes it is necessary to reduce access to ensure safety, this is decidedly not one of those instances," Conley wrote. "In particular, the State has failed to meet its burden of demonstrating through credible evidence a link between the admitting privileges requirement and a legitimate health interest."
Conley said at the hearing on the lawsuit that he was worried the law was too rigid. He noted that the law required providers to get privileges within three days of its enactment. Walker, the second-term Republican governor, signed the law on July 5, 2013, and it required providers to have privileges in place by July 8.
Conley noted in his decision that the "sudden adoption" of the permitting requirements, without giving enough time for compliance, "compels a finding that its purpose was to impose a substantial obstacle on women's right to abortions in Wisconsin."
Fourteen states require doctors performing abortions to either have hospital admitting privileges or some sort of alternative agreement, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. Five other states have passed such restrictions but courts have put them temporarily on hold.