Advocates Fight to Keep Tuscaloosa Abortion Clinic Open

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Advocates Fight to Keep Tuscaloosa Abortion Clinic Open

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Reproductive rights advocates filed a lawsuit in federal court Friday to prevent the sole licensed abortion clinic in Tuscaloosa from being forced to shut down by what advocates describe as an unnecessary state regulation.

Reproductive rights advocates filed a lawsuit in federal court Friday to prevent the sole licensed abortion clinic in Tuscaloosa from being forced to shut down by what advocates describe as an unnecessary state regulation.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama filed the lawsuit on behalf of the West Alabama Women’s Center and Dr. William Parker, charging that HB 57 is unconstitutional.

The Alabama legislature passed HB 57 in April 2013, which requires every physician who performs an abortion at a licensed abortion clinic to have staff privileges at a local hospital, or that the clinic enters into a written agreement with a local physician who has such privileges to serve as the clinic’s outside covering physician.

On June 11, 2013, three of Alabama’s five licensed abortion clinics—Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery and Planned Parenthood Southeast (PPSE) health centers in Birmingham and Mobile—filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of HB 57.

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A federal district court temporarily blocked HB 57 nearly three weeks later, issuing an opinion on August 4 that declared the statute unconstitutional as applied to the plaintiffs in that case. That order remains in effect today.

The only hospital in Tuscaloosa is unwilling to grant Dr. Parker privileges for reasons unrelated to his competency as an abortion provider, according to the complaint. The compliant alleges no OB-GYN in the Tuscaloosa area is willing to serve as the clinic’s outside covering physician, due to anti-choice sentiment and fear of being publicly associated with an abortion clinic.

As a result, the plaintiffs claim, West Alabama Women’s Center risks closing.

“When a woman has decided to have an abortion, the state shouldn’t stand in her way of getting safe, high quality care,” said Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. “But by shutting down the Tuscaloosa clinic, that is exactly what this regulation does.”

West Alabama Women’s Center is the only licensed abortion facility in Tuscaloosa, providing about 40 percent of abortions in the state, and is one of only two clinics in Alabama where women who need second-trimester abortions can obtain care.

“We all want women to be safe, but that isn’t what this regulation does,” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement.  “In fact, it puts women at risk by shutting down one of the last remaining abortion clinics in Alabama.”