Late Friday a federal judge temporarily blocked an Alabama law that imposes medically unnecessary restrictions that would force most of the clinics in the state to stop providing abortions.
The law, which requires every physician who performs an abortion at a clinic to have staff privileges at a local hospital, is similar to a Mississippi law that was blocked by a federal district court earlier this year and to a bill recently passed by the Wisconsin legislature that has not yet been signed by the governor. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Alabama, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Planned Parenthood Southeast all challenged the law, arguing it was unconstitutional.
“We’re grateful that the court stepped in to prevent politicians from taking away a woman’s ability to make this personal and private decision,” Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said in a statement. “We will continue to fight to ensure that these decisions can be made by a woman with her family and her doctor, not by politicians sitting in Montgomery.”
Doctors and leading medical groups, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, oppose such requirements because they are unnecessary for the provision of safe, high-quality health care, and because they prevent women from getting necessary services. Alabama law does not require doctors providing surgery at other health centers to have admitting privileges even for more complicated procedures.
The decision by a hospital to grant, or not grant, admitting privileges is often unclear, with no clear standard that governs. Catholic hospitals almost never grant privileges to providers who perform abortions, and for-profit hospitals are growing more leery of doing so thanks to the risk of aggressive anti-choice protesters. Admitting privileges laws manipulate this dynamic in their efforts to drive providers from states.
“The law is part of a coordinated national campaign designed to outlaw abortion, state by state,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “These laws insult women’s intelligence by claiming to be about safety, when the true intent is to shut down clinics and prevent a woman from making a real decision about her pregnancy.”
If the court had not blocked the law, it would have forced three of the state’s five abortion clinics to stop providing abortions. Doctors at these clinics are unable to obtain hospital staff privileges due to factors such as the hospital’s opposition to abortion or a requirement that physicians admit a minimum number of patients to the hospital. Because the procedure is extremely safe, it is impossible for physicians who provide abortions to meet the minimum requirements.
If the law was allowed to take effect, the only abortion clinics left in the state would be in Huntsville and Tuscaloosa. There would be no clinics that provide abortions left in any of the state’s three most populous cities: Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery. The order was issued shortly after attorneys presented arguments to the court Thursday.