Trial Begins in Challenge to Wisconsin Admitting Privileges Law

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Trial Begins in Challenge to Wisconsin Admitting Privileges Law

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A federal court will hear evidence and arguments on the constitutionality of an anti-choice restriction that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

A trial begins Tuesday in federal court in a legal challenge to a Wisconsin law, SB 206, that requires doctors providing abortions in the state to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or face felony charges.

SB 206 also requires an ultrasound prior to an abortion, but that portion of the law is not being challenged at this time.

The admitting privileges mandate, which has been on hold since July when a lower court first temporarily blocked it, requires every physician who performs an abortion at a clinic in the state to have staff privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they perform abortions. According to reproductive health-care advocates challenging the Wisconsin law, the admitting privileges requirement would force clinics in the state to close if it is allowed to go into effect. Wisconsin currently has only four health centers where a patient can have an abortion. But if Wisconsin’s admitting privileges requirement takes effect, at least one provider in Milwaukee will be forced to close immediately. Advocates claim the remaining three providers in the state may not be able to absorb the unmet need, which will force abortions later in pregnancy, if women are able to access them at all.

“Let me be clear: This law was designed by politicians, not doctors, with the single-minded goal of shutting down women’s health care centers and ending access to safe, legal abortion,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement. “Requiring a business arrangement that would decrease women’s access to high quality health care providers doesn’t improve women’s safety. Opponents are waging a stealth war on abortion, and women and families are paying the price.”

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Anti-choice advocates in Wisconsin—like those in Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas—have advanced targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws like the controversial admitting privileges requirement under the guise of promoting patient safety. But leading national medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, oppose admitting privileges requirements because, they argue, such laws do not enhance patient safety and instead put patients at risk by forcing providers to close, thereby limiting access to safe, affordable reproductive health care.

“We all want to protect women’s health and safety,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement. “This law won’t do that — in fact, it will do the opposite, which is why we are in court on behalf of the patients who turn to Planned Parenthood health centers for safe, compassionate, respectful care.”

So far, federal courts have been mostly hostile to admitting privileges requirements. A trial is currently underway in Alabama challenging an admitting privileges requirement there, while a similar law in Mississippi is temporarily blocked while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit evaluates its constitutionality. Should the Mississippi law be allowed to go into effect, it could shutter the state’s only remaining abortion provider. Meanwhile, in Texas, where a similar law has taken effect, the number of physicians providing safe and legal abortion has been drastically reduced, especially in the impoverished Rio Grande Valley. Similar legislation is pending in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.