UPDATE, July 8, 2:35 p.m.: The Associated Press reports that arguments are scheduled for July 17.
On Friday last week the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin (PPWI) filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging a new Wisconsin law that places medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers and threatens to close two of the states four clinics providing abortion care.
Just before the Fourth of July holiday Governor Scott Walker (R) requested the state legislature send him SB 206 a fast-tracked bill passed in less than one week in a process that has come to encapsulate anti-women lawmakers rush to pass as many restrictions with as little public input as possible. SB 206 requires all abortion providers to have staff admitting privileges at a local hospital. This requirement is opposed by doctors and leading medical groups, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Wisconsin Public Health Association as an unnecessary hurdle for pregnant people needing to access abortion care.
PPWI is asking the federal district court to immediately block the law because it violates the due process rights of both PPWI and its patients. Federal courts in Alabama and Mississippi recently blocked similar staff privilege requirements like Wisconsin’s after the courts found that they were likely unconstitutional and would prevent women from obtaining abortions. A similar requirement is part of the package of bills generating substantial opposition and attention in Texas.
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“This law will drastically limit a woman’s ability to obtain a safe and legal abortion in Wisconsin by imposing burdensome and medically unnecessary requirements on doctors that provide this essential care,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Legal Director Larry Dupuis in a statement. “This law was rammed through the legislature in a matter of days and now, with a stroke of his pen, the governor has put the very health and well-being of Wisconsin women and families at immediate risk.”
The law would force Affiliated Medical Services in Milwaukee and Planned Parenthood’s health center in Appleton to shut down, and would force Planned Parenthood’s health center in Milwaukee to cut staff and severely curtail services. “Requiring doctors who provide abortions to have staff privileges at a nearby hospital won’t make women safer and, in fact, could jeopardize their health by depriving women in Wisconsin access to safe, high-quality health care,” said Dr. Broekhuizen Medical Director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. “Legal abortion is extremely safe. In fact, it is one of the safest medical procedures in the United States. Abortion complications are rare, but those that do occur are usually handled in the health center that provided the abortion. In the exceedingly rare event that a complication after an abortion requires hospital-based care, a woman would be provided emergency care at a hospital, and staff privileges at that hospital have no impact on a woman’s ability to receive high quality, timely care.”
Doctors who provide abortions are often unable to obtain hospital admitting privileges due to factors such as the hospital’s opposition to abortion or a requirement that physicians admit a minimum number of patients to the hospital. Because abortion is extremely safe and rarely results in hospitalization, it is impossible for physicians who provide abortions to meet the minimum requirement. Moreover, because of its immediate effective date, this law does not even allow doctors to try to obtain privileges before forcing them to stop providing abortions.
“We are confident that the Court will recognize that women in Wisconsin, including victims of rape and incest, will be restricted from accessing safe and legal abortion,” said Teri Huyck, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. “Senate Bill 206 is one part of the legislative majority’s goal to end abortion access in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, you do not need to overturn Roe vs. Wade to make abortion inaccessible. When abortion is inaccessible women’s health suffers and women die. It is critical that women still maintain access. This is why we are filing suit—for our patients, future patients and all of the women of Wisconsin. Women should be trusted and allowed to make their own health care decisions.”
If the law is not blocked, abortion would only be available to women in Madison and Milwaukee, forcing women in many parts of the state to travel, in many cases at least an extra 200 miles round-trip away from home to access abortion care, and since Wisconsin also has a 24-hr waiting period, that means it’s a trip many Wisconsin women would be forced to make twice.
A hearing on the request to block the law has not yet been scheduled.