News Law and Policy

Judge Temporarily Blocks North Dakota’s Admitting Privileges Law

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A state judge blocked a law imposing criminal penalties on providers who perform abortions without admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

A North Dakota admitting privileges law designed to close the only abortion clinic in the state was blocked temporarily on Wednesday as a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the law proceeds.

SB 2305, which was signed into law on March 26 and was set to take effect on Thursday, imposes the medically unwarranted requirement that physicians performing abortions in the state have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Physicians who fail to comply with the admitting privileges requirement could be prosecuted for a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in prison and a $3,000 fine.

In May, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) filed a lawsuit challenging the measure, supplementing a 2011 legal challenge to a similar law that included onerous medication abortion and transfer agreement rules. In both cases, CRR challenged the law on behalf of the Red River Women’s Clinic, the only abortion clinic in North Dakota, which provides a range of reproductive health services to women in North Dakota as well as to patients who travel from neighboring states, like South Dakota and Minnesota. In a July 15 ruling, state Judge Wickham Corwin permanently blocked the 2011 law, which he said violates the state and U.S. constitutions. Judge Corwin’s ruling on Wednesday sets the stage for a similar fate for the admitting privileges law.

“Today’s decision ensures that North Dakota’s only abortion clinic can keep its doors open to the many women it provides critical health care to every year,” said Bebe Anderson, director of the U.S. legal program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “We are confident that this law, and all the efforts to erode women’s constitutional rights and block their access to essential health care, ultimately will be struck down permanently.”

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The decision is a clear victory for public health advocates and the latest in a series to come from the state. CRR also recently filed a federal lawsuit against two other unconstitutional North Dakota laws, one banning abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy and another outlawing abortions for reasons of sex selection or genetic fetal anomaly. On July 22, a federal judge blocked the six-week abortion ban from going into effect, calling the measure “clearly invalid and unconstitutional” under U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

North Dakota is not alone in its crusade to regulate clinics out of existence. In April, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking Mississippi’s law that requires any doctor who performs abortions in the state to be a board-certified OB-GYN, or eligible for certification, with admitting privileges at an area hospital. And in July, a federal judge in Alabama temporarily blocked the state from enforcing the admitting privileges portion of its new abortion law until March 2014, while a legal challenge filed by Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union moves forward. Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, a federal court issued a temporary injunction to block its similar admitting privileges law from taking effect earlier this month.

News Law and Policy

Wisconsin GOP’s Voter Restriction Law Suffers Another Legal Blow

Imani Gandy

In blocking many of Wisconsin's elections restrictions, the lower court ruled that the state must reform how it deals with voters who have difficulty obtaining the required photo ID to vote.

A federal appeals court yesterday refused to stay a lower court order blocking several Wisconsin voting restrictions, allowing election officials to move forward with early voting in the state next month.

Attorneys on behalf of the state of Wisconsin filed the request for a stay with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals after a lower court judge last month issued an injunction that blocked parts of Wisconsin’s sweepings elections laws.

The lower court ruled that the justification for the laws did not justify the burden on voting rights that they impose. And this week a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit declined to stay that ruling, without explaining.

The ruling comes days after elections officials in Madison and Milwaukee announced their intention to kick off early voting in late September, a month earlier than would have been allowed had the lower court not struck down the restrictions on early voting, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

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The Republican-backed elections law created state-imposed limitations on the time and location for in-person absentee voting, a provision requiring absentee ballots be sent by mail instead of fax or email, the requirement that dorm lists—a certified list provided by the university of the students living in college housing, which student voters may use as proof of residence—must include citizenship information, a ban on using expired but otherwise qualifying student IDs to establish proof of residency, and a 28-day durational residency requirement.

In blocking many of Wisconsin’s elections restrictions, the lower court ruled that the state must reform how it deals with voters who have difficulty obtaining the required photo ID to vote. Gov. Scott Walker (R) and the GOP-controlled Wisconsin legislature had implemented a system under which people who don’t have birth certificates or who have problems with gathering documentation needed to obtain the proper identification would still be able to vote.

The lower court noted that the Walker administration’s system did not provide a viable long-term solution for those voters who could not obtain their birth certificates because they were destroyed in fires or misplaced by bureaucrats.

The court later stayed that portion of the ruling, stating that the system created by Walker’s administration—which provides people with temporary voting credentials while they await a decision about whether they qualify for an ID—was sufficient to allow people to vote during the upcoming November election and therefore does not need to be immediately reformed.

The ruling comes on the heels of a ruling in another voting rights case in Wisconsin, Frank v. Walker, about the state’s voter ID law. In that case, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit stayed a ruling that would have permitted anyone eligible to vote in Wisconsin to an accommodation that would permit that voter to cast a ballot after signing an affidavit stating that they could not easily obtain an ID.

News Law and Policy

Federal Judge Guts Florida GOP’s Omnibus Anti-Choice Law

Teddy Wilson

"For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” said Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away."

A federal judge on Thursday permanently blocked two provisions of a Florida omnibus anti-choice law that banned Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds and required annual inspections of all clinics that provide abortion services, reported the Associated Press.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued an order in June to delay implementation of the law.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that a government cannot prohibit indirectly—by withholding otherwise-available public funds—conduct that the government could not constitutionally prohibit directly,” Hinkle wrote in the 25-page ruling.  

Thursday’s decision came after Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration decided not to pursue further legal action to defend the law, and filed a joint motion to end the litigation.

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Hinkle issued a three page decision making the injunction permanent.

HB 1411, sponsored by Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland), was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature in March.

The judge’s ruling nixed provisions in the law that banned state funding of abortion care and required yearly clinic inspections. Other provisions of the law that remain in effect include additional reporting requirements for abortion providers, redefining “third trimester,” and revising the care of fetal remains.

The GOP-backed anti-choice law has already had a damaging effect in Palm Beach County, where Planned Parenthood was forced to end a program that focused on teen dropout prevention.

Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said in a statement that the ruling was a “victory for thousands of Floridians” who rely on the organization for reproductive health care.

“For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” Zdravecky said. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away.”

A spokesperson for Scott told Reuters that the administration is “reviewing” the decision.

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