In a victory for women and the U.S. Constitution a federal appeals court has struck down a Wisconsin law requiring physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
A panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in a 2-1 ruling concluded Monday the medical benefit to the requirement was “nonexistent” and “cannot be taken seriously as a measure to improve women’s health.”
Washington Post reports the ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services. The groups argued that the 2013 law amounts to an unconstitutional restriction on abortions. The law has been on hold since a federal judge struck it down earlier this year.
Writing for the majority, Judge Richard Posner—a Republican appointed by Ronald Reagan—noted that “any doctor (in fact any person) can bring a patient to an emergency room to be treated by the doctors employed there,” no special privileges needed.
Judge Posner writes:
Moreover, all Wisconsin abortion clinics are required by law … to have transfer agreements with local hospitals to streamline the process of transferring the patient from the abortion clinic to a nearby hospital, which could be important if the patient would be better served elsewhere in a hospital than the emergency room—though in that event the emergency room doctors would send her to the part of the hospital in which she could best be served.
Posner also said the benefits of admitting privileges, if any, are far outweighed by their negative effects on abortion access. As Jezebel points out, the opinion is worth quoting at length, because of the elegant yet straightforward way he dismantles the state’s arguments in favor of the law, and raises an eyebrow at how quickly they moved to implement it:
The state points out that abortion doctors have now had more than two years since the statute was enacted in which to obtain admitting privileges. But the legislature’s intention to impose the two-day deadline, the effect of which would have been to force half the Wisconsin abortion clinics to close for months, is difficult to explain save as a method of preventing abortions that women have a constitutional right to obtain. The state tells us that “there is no evidence the [Wisconsin] Legislature knew AMS physicians would be unable to comply with the Act.” That insults the legislators’ intelligence. How could they have thought that an abortion doctor, or any doctor for that matter, could obtain admitting privileges in so short a time as allowed? The clinics would have had to close, and months would have passed before they could reopen.
The fixing of such a short deadline for obtaining admitting privileges, a deadline likely to deny many women the right to an abortion for a period of months while the abortion doctors tried to obtain those privileges, could be justified consistently with the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence only if there were reason to believe that the health of women who have abortions is endangered if their abortion doctors don’t have admitting privileges. The district court correctly found that there is no reason to believe that.
A woman who experiences complications from an abortion (either while still at the clinic where the abortion was performed or at home afterward) will go to the nearest hospital, which will treat her regardless of whether her abortion doctor has admitting privileges.
UPI reports similar laws have been blocked in six other states. Earlier this month the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to a 2013 Texas law which has reduced the number of abortion providers in that state by demanding that abortion clinics have the same standards as “ambulatory surgical centers,” with certain requirements for equipment, staff and infrastructure.
Bottom line: By making unnecessary mandates concerning admitting privileges, these laws ultimately burden and discriminate against women, and are part of a larger project promoted by the religious right to deny women access to abortion in direct defiance of the U.S. Constitution.