Federal Court Permanently Blocks Wisconsin Admitting Privileges Requirement

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Federal Court Permanently Blocks Wisconsin Admitting Privileges Requirement

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The sweeping opinion ruled the law had been passed with the improper purpose of restricting abortion access in the state—a policy endorsed by Gov. Scott Walker.

A federal judge on Friday permanently struck down Wisconsin’s admitting privileges requirement for abortion providers, ruling the law was motivated by the improper purpose of restricting access to abortion throughout the state.

District Court Judge William Conley rejected every one of the reasons offered by the Wisconsin attorney general’s office in defense of the 2013 law that requires doctors providing abortions in Wisconsin have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or face felony charges.

Presidential hopeful and Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed Act 37 into law July 5, 2013, mandating providers to have privileges in place by July 8.

The “sudden adoption” of the permitting requirements, without giving providers enough time for compliance, “compels a finding that its purpose was to impose a substantial obstacle on women’s right to abortions in Wisconsin,” Conley wrote.

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“While the court agrees with the State that sometimes it is necessary to reduce access to ensure safety, this is decidedly not one of those instances,” said Conley. “In particular, the State has failed to meet its burden of demonstrating through credible evidence a link between the admitting privileges requirement and a legitimate health interest.”

Conley ruled the state’s medical evidence offered in defense of the admitting privileges requirement unsound and held “the only reasonable conclusion is that the legislation was motivated by an improper purpose, namely to restrict the availability of abortion services in Wisconsin.”

The law, Conley wrote, is “a solution in search of a problem, unless that problem is access to abortion itself.”

Judge Conley also noted that should the requirement be allowed to take effect, poor patients would bear the biggest burden as many would be forced to travel to Chicago to have an abortion.

“While a trip from Milwaukee to Chicago may not pose an issue for women of means (even relatively modest means) women seeking abortions nationally, particularly in Wisconsin are poor, very poor,” he wrote, noting that 62 percent of abortion patients in Wisconsin fall below the federal poverty line.

“Politicians, not doctors, crafted this law for the sole purpose of shutting down women’s health care centers and preventing women from getting safe, legal abortions,” Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU, said in a statement following the decision. “The justifications states offer for these laws, which are opposed by major medical groups like the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, are a sham.”

The admitting privileges requirement has been on hold since July, when a lower court temporarily blocked it. Conley’s 90-page ruling followed a trial this summer on the merits of advocates’ claims that admitting privilege requirements are unconstitutional.

“Once again, the courts have ruled that politicians have no place in a woman’s personal medical decisions,” Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “We all want to protect women’s health and safety—and these laws don’t do that, which is why medical experts oppose them. Let this ruling be a lesson to lawmakers across the country that a woman’s ability to access safe and legal abortion should not depend on where she lives.”

Attorneys for the state are reportedly planning to appeal Conley’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The Seventh Circuit has once already rejected Wisconsin’s admitting privileges requirement, ruling in December 2013 to uphold the temporary injunction blocking the requirement from taking effect.