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Wisconsin judge rules abortionists don't need hospital privileges

Madison South Health Center, owned and operated by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, is one of two abortion providers in Madison. Associated Press/Photo by Kevin Wang

Wisconsin judge rules abortionists don't need hospital privileges

A federal judge on Friday struck down a Wisconsin law requiring abortionists to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Though the judge recognized the law improves women’s safety, he said the improvement was marginal compared to the unconstitutional impediment the law created to a woman’s right to have an abortion.

Four abortion facilities currently operate in Wisconsin. Three of them successfully complied with the law. But onefacility’s inability to comply led Planned Parenthood, Affiliated Medical Services, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin to file suit to have the law struck down.

In 2013, U.S. District Judge William Conley put the law on hold temporarily. But he decided in last week’s ruling the requirement violated the 14th Amendment, which some claim protects the right to abortion. Had it gone into effect, the law’s opponents said the state’s largest abortion facility would close, and the remaining three facilities would be unable to meet the demand.

Last week, Conley sided with the challengers. “While the court agrees with the state that sometimes it is necessary to reduce access to insure 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.”

Fourteen other states currently enforce similar laws. In five other states, the laws are on hold. The regulations generally require the abortionist to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility or have an agreement with another physician.

But Conley worried Wisconsin’s bill was too rigid. It required abortionists to obtain privileges three days after Gov. Scott Walker signed it into law. But while the measure was on hold, abortionists at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s Appleton, Madison, and Milwaukee facilities obtained privileges.

Some of the other abortionists were unable to obtain privileges partly due to insufficient peer review of their abortion practice, according to Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL).

“Wisconsin Right to Life is disappointed that women will not receive the care they need under these frightening circumstances,” said WRTL Executive Director Heather Weininger. “The fact that some abortionists are not reviewed adequately is exactly why the legislature correctly voted to require admitting privileges at a hospital to provide the highest quality care for women.”

Laurel Patrick, a spokeswoman for Walker, said the governor’s office would work with the attorney general’s office to appeal the ruling. “We believe the law will ultimately be upheld,” she said.

WRTL insists the law is necessary.

“Conley’s decision … is detrimental to providing continuity of care for women who suffer complications from an abortion,” Weininger said. “We must do all we can to ensure safety and continuity of care for Wisconsin women.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Courtney Crandell Courtney is a former WORLD correspondent.

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