Tip Sheet: Admitting Privileges for Abortion Providers

Published on April 28, 2015

A brief filed late last week urges the Supreme Court to leave in place a ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals blocking HB 1390 in Mississippi, which includes the requirement that abortion providers obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals. If this bill is allowed to take effect, Mississippi would become the first state in the nation without a single licensed abortion clinic.

An ongoing investigation by the daily online publication Rewire has documented the false claims made by supporters of admitting privileges legislation, which have been completely rejected by the medical and scientific communities.

HB 1390 in Mississippi

Mississippi’s HB 1390 requires doctors performing abortions in the state to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals or face criminal penalties. It passed and was signed by the governor in April 2012, but was blocked by a federal court shortly before going into effect.

Six states currently have only one licensed clinic that provides abortions. Of those, Arkansas, Mississippi and North Dakota have enacted admitting privilege requirements. Allowing HB 1390 to go into effect would not only leave Mississippi without a licensed abortion clinic but also set a dangerous precedent, opening the door for similar bills across the country.

The Bad Math Behind Admitting Privileges

HB 1390 and other bills like it are based on widely discredited claims that abortion is dangerous, with a high rate of complication, and that admitting privileges are necessary to protect patients.

Among the proponents of bills requiring admitting privileges is ob/gyn and anti-abortion activist Dr. John Thorp, who served as an expert witness in the lawsuit challenging HB 1390. His testimony has been used to support similar measures states across the country, including Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Wisconsin.

In his testimony in support of Mississippi’s HB 1390, Thorp claimed that the complication rate from abortion is between 2 and 10 percent. He has submitted expert testimony including the 2-to-10 figures in several similar cases, including a 2014 lawsuit challenging admitting privilege requirements in Wisconsin.

But when questioned by other experts, Thorp admitted that the complication rates he used were incorrect, featuring misplaced decimal points as well as results arrived at by combining data from studies that were not related.

The Facts

An overwhelming body of public health research shows that abortion is safe, with a very low complication rate and no justification for admitting privilege requirements.

  • A 2013 investigation by Rewire analyzed documents obtained from health departments and attorneys general of 50 states, and uncovered no instances of abortion complications that necessitated admitting privilege requirements or other abortion restrictions passed by state lawmakers.
  • In a 2013 brief, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association stated there is “simply no medical basis to impose a local admitting privilege on abortion providers.”
  • Other major medical studies have shown that abortion—especially when performed in the early weeks of pregnancy—is extremely safe. A recent comprehensive study of complication rates of abortion by researchers at the University of California San Francisco found that abortion is safer than many other common, uncontroversial medical procedures, including childbirth.

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