Court Permanently Blocks Alabama Admitting Privileges Law

The law, if allowed to take effect, would have closed all but one clinic in the state, according to advocates.

The ACLU filed its Freedom of Information Act request with CMS in 2014, but said it received no meaningful response. Shutterstock

A federal district court on Friday permanently struck down an Alabama law requiring doctors who provide abortions in the state to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital.

The law, HB 57, has been blocked since 2013 and would have forced all but one of the state’s licensed abortion clinics to close, advocates charge.

“[T]he impact of the law on the right of Alabama women to choose to have an abortion will simply be enormous,” Judge Myron Thompson wrote. “The staff-privileges requirement would make it impossible for a woman to obtain an abortion in much of the State. It is certain that thousands of women per year—approximately 40 percent of those seeking abortions in the State—would be unduly burdened.”

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Alabama, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America sued to block the law shortly after it was passed. The organizations argued that the requirement, which mirrors other mandates passed by Republican-majority legislatures in states like Texas and Wisconsin, unnecessarily restricted abortion rights.

Thompson temporary blocked the measure in 2014, but that decision applied to the specific plaintiffs challenging the law. Friday’s decision expands that ruling and applies to all women’s health centers in the state.

“This ruling protects the health of thousands of Alabama women by ensuring their access to safe and legal abortion,” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement following the decision. “The court evaluated the medical evidence and agreed with the medical experts that this law provides no health benefit to any woman seeking abortion care.”

Thompson ruled that a significant number of pregnant people would be prevented from obtaining an abortion, and “others would be able to obtain abortions only after considerable delay, increasing the risks associated with the procedures.”

“[A] delayed procedure would likely become a denied procedure for many women,” Thompson wrote.

“[T]here is a significant risk that some women, faced with the inaccessibility or unavailability of an abortion provider, would pursue dangerous, unregulated abortions,” Thompson continued.

Friday’s decision comes as the GOP-dominated Alabama legislature considers multiple abortion restrictions, “including another bill, SB 205, designed to close abortion clinics and a constitutional amendment, HB 300, that would ban abortion altogether,” according to an ACLU statement.

The Supreme Court is also considering the constitutionality of a nearly identical Texas measure in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

Federal courts have also blocked admitting privileges requirements in pending lawsuits in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Wisconsin.