Another Victory for Women’s Health: Federal Judge Rules to Protect Women’s Access to Safe, Legal Abortion in Wisconsin

March 20, 2015 2:00 pm

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MADISON, WI – A federal judge has struck down a harmful Wisconsin law signed in 2013 that would have severely restricted access to safe and legal abortion in the state. In a sweeping opinion that rejects every one of the state’s purported justifications for the law, Judge William Conley held that the law was passed by the Wisconsin legislature to restrict access to abortion.

Judge Conley found that the law would impose an undue burden “on women’s health outcomes due to restricted access to abortions in Wisconsin.” Rejecting the state’s medical evidence as unsound, the court held that “the only reasonable conclusion is that the legislation was motivated by an improper purpose, namely to restrict the availability of abortion services in Wisconsin.” Judge Conley also said this law is “a solution in search of a problem, unless that problem is access to abortion itself.”

Last year, a judge struck down a similar law in Alabama as unconstitutional, calling the state’s basis for the requirement “exceedingly weak.” A federal court also struck down a similar law in Mississippi.

Only four health centers provide abortion in Wisconsin. If this law were to take effect, the largest of those health centers will be forced to close immediately, and the remaining three will not be able to absorb the unmet need. This could delay procedures by up to 10 weeks, forcing abortions later in pregnancy, if a woman is able to have one at all.

Data, including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that abortion has over a 99 percent safety record. The plaintiffs in this case already have plans in place for patient safety. Emergency rooms provide care if necessary, and all Wisconsin abortion clinics already have made arrangements with local hospitals in the extremely rare case that a patient needs hospital care.

“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” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU. “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 courts have ruled that politicians have no place in a woman’s personal medical decisions,” said Cecile Richards, president, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “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.”

Similar admitting privileges restrictions threaten access to safe, legal abortion elsewhere. A law in Mississippi — currently blocked by federal court order — would shut down the state’s only remaining abortion provider if allowed to take effect. The law recently struck down in Alabama could close all but two of the providers in the state. In Texas, similar legislation has drastically reduced the number of abortion providers. Meanwhile, similar laws have been temporarily blocked in Louisiana and Oklahoma.

Laws like these — which are opposed by the American Medical Association (AMA) and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — single out doctors who provide abortions and require them to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital. As the president of ACOG wrote, “These laws are clearly not motivated by women’s safety, but by making access to safe, legal abortion difficult — even impossible.”

As Judge Myron Thompson wrote in his strongly worded 172-page opinion in the Alabama case: “If this requirement would not … constitute an impermissible undue burden, then almost no regulation, short of those imposing an outright prohibition on abortion, would.”

The plaintiffs in this case are Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Affiliated Medical Services. They are represented by attorneys from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin firm Cullen, Weston, Pines & Bach.

More information on the case can be found at:

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