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Attorneys Ask Court to Skip Trial in Fight Over Alabama Admitting Privileges Law

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Competing motions filed by attorneys for the State of Alabama and three abortion clinics in the state have asked a federal court to rule without a trial on the constitutionality of the state's admitting privileges law.

Attorneys for the State of Alabama and those representing three abortion clinics in the state have asked a federal court to rule without a trial on a state law that critics claim will unconstitutionally cut off access to safe abortion care.

At issue is Alabama’s hospital admitting privileges law, which, like similar laws in Wisconsin and Mississippi, requires that doctors who provide abortions at clinics have staff privileges at local hospitals. This summer, District Court Judge Myron Thompson temporarily blocked the law, holding that it would “impose a substantial obstacle to a woman’s right to choose abortion” and that in the long run, “the evidence [about the effect of the law] raises the specter of an Alabama in which women are unable to exercise this due-process right at all.”

That temporary order is set to expire at the end of March unless the court makes that order permanent, a request made by Planned Parenthood and opposed by attorneys for the state. “This is the next step in our legal case to protect Alabama women’s ability to make their own personal, private health care decisions,” said Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, in a statement. “Regardless of the outcome on this particular step in the case, the harm this law would cause women is clear and therefore we remain confident that this law is unconstitutional and ultimately will be blocked.”

The competing motions for summary judgement effectively ask the court to rule on the merits of Planned Parenthood’s challenge, but without a trial. That means the court’s record is confined to the materials submitted to it by attorneys for the parties. In this case, attorneys for the state argue the facts support their claim that the admitting privileges requirement is necessary to ensure patient safety, and that the clinics cannot prove the requirements create an undue burden on abortion access because the doctors should be able to find a way to obtain those privileges. Opponents counter that every hospital in the state has its own process and requirements for granting staff privileges, varying by location, provider specialty type, hospital bylaws, and other factors, and that the evidence before the court shows a failure to get hospital privileges often has nothing to do with patient safety.

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A hearing on the requests is anticipated in February.

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