News Law and Policy

Federal Court Extends Order Temporarily Blocking Alabama Admitting Privileges Law

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A portion of an Alabama law that requires doctors who perform abortions in the state to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital will remain on hold for at least another week. Three clinics in the state sued to block the requirement, arguing that it is medically unnecessary and unconstitutional.

Last Wednesday, a federal judge in Alabama extended a temporary restraining order that prevents the state from enforcing the portion of a state law that requires every physician who performs abortions in the state to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson extended the order until April 2, as the court considers how to proceed next in the case.

Three clinics in the state sued to block the admitting privileges requirement, arguing that it is medically unnecessary and unconstitutional. The law also makes it a felony for a nurse, nurse practitioner, or anyone who is not a doctor to administer an abortion-inducing drug and requires abortion clinics to meet the same architectural standards as ambulatory clinics. Those provisions have not yet been challenged.

Those clinics claim the law will force them to close, while attorneys representing the state told the court there is no way to know the impact of the hospital admitting privileges requirement until the law takes effect.

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Doctors and leading medical groups, such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, oppose hospital admitting requirements like Alabama’s because they are unnecessary for the provision of safe, high-quality health care. Alabama law does not require doctors providing surgery at other health centers to have admitting privileges even for more complicated procedures, a fact challengers of the law argue shows that, despite what attorneys for the state claim, the admitting privileges requirement serves no legitimate medical purpose.

Attorneys for the state and the clinics challenging the law have asked the court to rule on the merits of their claims without a trial, but at a hearing last month, the court noted that avoiding a trial may be difficult since the parties had significant differences on the key facts of the case.

According to the clinics challenging the law, if the law is allowed to take effect it would force three of the state’s five abortion clinics to stop providing abortions since doctors at these clinics are unable to obtain hospital staff privileges  for a number of reasons, including that some hospitals are opposed to abortion or require that physicians admit a minimum number of patients. That would leave abortion clinics open in only Huntsville and Tuscaloosa, with none left in the state’s three most populous cities: Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery.

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.

News Abortion

Abortion Providers Could Recoup Millions From Wisconsin After Fighting Unconstitutional Anti-Choice Law

Michelle D. Anderson

The providers seeking money include Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Inc., Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Milwaukee Women's Medical Services, which conducts business as Affiliated Medical Services.

Abortion providers serving Wisconsin residents could recoup nearly $1.8 million in legal fees they amassed while fighting an anti-choice law that was first blocked in 2013. However, spokespeople for the State of Wisconsin have raised the possibility of an undisclosed settlement.

In a U.S. District Court filing dated July 28, the providers requested an award of “attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses” that could be recouped under the Civil Rights Attorneys’ Fee Awards Act of 1976. On Wednesday in response, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel asked the court to extend the due date for the state to respond from August 18 to September 1. The request was granted, according to court documents.

“The parties are currently discussing settlement of the plaintiffs’ motion. An extension of the briefing schedule would allow the parties the opportunity to explore the possibility of a settlement of this issue,” Schimel said in the court filing.

The providers seeking money include Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Inc., Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Milwaukee Women’s Medical Services, which conducts business as Affiliated Medical Services. The sum requested includes $1.7 million in attorneys’ fees, $44,253 in billable costs and $22,545 in out-of-pocket expenses, according to the court filing.

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The providers amassed the fees fighting Wisconsin Act 37 of 2013, a Republican-initiated law that required doctors to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the location where an abortion was to be performed.

U.S. District Judge William Conley of the Western District of Wisconsin blocked the law’s enforcement soon after Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed it in 2013.

The state attorney general twice appealed to the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which affirmed the lower court’s decision both times; the U.S. Supreme Court also declined to take the case a day after overturning a similar provision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

In a Court of Appeals opinion issued in November 2015, the court said there was no evidence that “transfer agreements provide inferior protection to the health of women undergoing abortion compared to admitting privileges.” The opinion concluded by saying the unconstitutional statute was burdensome and curtailed citizens’ constitutional right to an abortion.

“The statute may not be irrational, yet may still impose an undue burden—a burden excessive in relation to the aims of the statute and the benefits likely to be conferred by it— and if so it is unconstitutional,” the court said.

If not blocked, the law would have forced pregnant people in various parts of the state to travel at least an extra 200 miles round trip to access legal abortion, according to a previous Rewire report.

Johnny Koremenos, a spokesperson for Schimel, had indicated in statements to the Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal earlier this month that the state would fight the charges for legal fees. He said Schimel would challenge the providers’ request “to ensure that the state is not paying more than it should be for those fees,” according to local news reports.

Koremenos did not respond to Rewire’s request for comment.

Walker also supported fighting the fees, his spokesperson told the Journal Sentinel.

Ismael Ozanne, the district attorney for Dane County, was also named as a defendant in the providers’ lawsuit, along with several state medical examining board members.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin spokeswoman Iris Riis told Rewire the money Planned Parenthood is seeking in this case is only a recoup of the legal fees already spent fighting the unconstitutional admitting privileges law.

“There would not be any leftover money to allocate to services or any fund. It would just cover what was already spent. Governor Walker’s administration appealed multiple definitive rulings, wasting countless taxpayer dollars in the process. That action also drove up our legal costs,” Riis said.

Riis said the plaintiffs do not know when Conley will issue the ruling that will determine whether Schimel will have to compensate them for legal fees.

Andrew Wiseman, a deputy clerk in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin, told Rewire the court could not offer a prediction about the date of Conley’s ruling.

Affiliated Medical Services, which operates a clinic in Milwaukee, is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, while private attorneys are representing Planned Parenthood.

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