A federal judge has temporarily barred implementation of a Wisconsin law that would require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.
Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Conley issued a temporary restraining order early Monday evening after an afternoon hearing in the federal courthouse in Madison.
A hearing on a preliminary injunction is scheduled for July 17, says Larry Dupuis, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. The temporary restraining order will remain in place until then.
The judge ruled that "there is a troubling lack of justification for the hospital admitting privilege requirement, which is important because the United States Supreme Court has explained that the state of Wisconsin bears the burden of proving that a medical requirement is 'reasonably directed to the preservation of maternal health.'"
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and ACLU Wisconsin filed a complaint July 5 in the Western District Circuit Court immediately after Gov. Scott Walker signed into law SB 206, legislation that also requires women seeking an abortion to first have an ultrasound. Dupuis represents Affiliated Medical Services in Milwaukee, and Madison attorney Lester Pines is representing Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.
The defendants in the case are Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and members of the state Medical Examining Board.
The complaint argued that the new law "will unconstitutionally restrict the availability of abortion services in Wisconsin by imposing a medically unnecessary requirement that all physicians who perform abortions have 'admitting privileges in a hospital within 30 miles of the location where the abortion is to be performed.'"
Affiliated Medical Services in Milwaukee and Planned Parenthood's clinic in Appleton would have to shut down entirely, says Nicole Safar, political director at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. And Planned Parenthood's clinic in Milwaukee would also have to cut back services. Affiliated Medical Services is the only clinic in the state performing late-term abortions.
This will make abortion unavailable in Wisconsin after 19 weeks of pregnancy, leave all areas north of Madison without an abortion provider, and severely restrict the availability of abortions in the remainder of the state," the complaint argued.
Dupuis says there is still the possibility of litigation over the ultrasound requirements in the law, but appointments hung in the balance with the admitting privileges provision in place.
"The more urgent need is to make sure that the admitting privileges part of it doesn't go into effect immediately," he says.
Further delays would jeopardize access to a legal abortion for these women.
Conley said these are valid concerns.
"Plaintiffs are likely to succeed in demonstrating that the regulation poses an undue burden on women seeking abortions in Wisconsin because it will have the effect (if not also the purpose) of presenting a 'substantial obstacle,'" he wrote.
Wisconsin Right to Life, which championed the law, said in an email July 5 that the measure was necessary to protect women's health.
"Currently, when a woman experiences hemorrhaging or other life-threatening complications after an abortion in Wisconsin, the clinic puts her in an ambulance and sends her to a hospital ALONE where she is left to her own devices to explain her medical issues to the emergency room staff. The abortionist who performed the abortion is nowhere to be seen. This deplorable situation must change."
Safar calls this "a ludicrous claim."
She says that abortion is an extremely safe procedure and that it is rare to have an emergency situation in a Planned Parenthood clinic. "We found less than four times in the last six years when a patient had to go to a hospital."
She says their clinics follow "best practices" for transferring patients to a hospital: "The EMT would decide which hospital the patient goes to, and we would have a transfer agreement completed." Safar says the physician would discuss the case with the emergency room doctor and do follow-up with the patient at the hospital.
"Wisconsin Right to Life has no evidence this isn't the case, and we've provided lots of evidence this is the case."
Read the temporary restraining order.