The Wisconsin Office of the Attorney General has agreed to pay the state’s abortion providers a $1.6 million lawsuit settlement to cover legal fees they amassed while fighting an unconstitutional 2013 admitting privileges law passed by the state’s GOP-held legislature.
The U.S. District Court in the Western District of Wisconsin ruled Thursday that the state must pay the money to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Affiliated Medical Services, also known as Milwaukee Women’s Medical Services.
Judge William M. Conley declared as part of Thursday’s judgment that the admitting privileges law was unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. The Republican-backed law had required doctors to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the location where an abortion was to be performed. Anti-choice legislators push admitting privileges laws as a safety precaution even though abortion care has proven time and again to be exceedingly safe.
The state attorney general had twice appealed to the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which affirmed a previous lower court’s decision to block the law in both instances. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case in June, just a day after overturning a similar Texas provision in the landmark Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case.
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Wendie Ashlock, clinic director for Affiliated Medical Services in Milwaukee, welcomed the news, telling Rewire that dealing with the anti-choice measure and filing the lawsuit was a “daunting” process.
“We had to pull records. We had to deal with trying to get admitting privileges and not getting a response from hospitals,” said Ashlock, a 23-year veteran at the clinic. “It was a very frustrating process to go through …. It’s nice to know that we’re going to be able to recoup some of the costs.”
Conley said the defendants, which include Wisconsin Attorney General Brad D. Schimel and members of the state medical examining board, were prohibited from enforcing the anti-choice law. He had blocked the law’s enforcement soon after Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed it into law in 2013.
The judgment came a week after state officials filed a second request to amend the case’s briefing schedule because the two parties had reached a settlement.
The parties had not reduced the agreement to writing, but had planned to file a stipulation formalizing the settlement, according to court documents.
The court judgment on Thursday said the stipulation and agreement would not prevent the providers “from seeking attorneys’ fees and costs in the event of future litigation” to enforce the district court’s judgment “for work related to such enforcement.”
The abortion providers had requested the funds in July, noting that they were entitled to reimbursement of the legal fees under the Civil Rights Attorneys’ Fee Awards Act of 1976. The providers asked for $1.7 million in attorneys’ fees, $44,253 in billable costs, and $22,545 in out-of-pocket expenses, as Rewire reported.
Teri Huyck, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said in a statement Thursday that Walker’s anti-choice efforts have proven to be an expensive bill for Wisconsin taxpayers.
That money, she said, could better be spent on helping people gain access to basic birth control and preventive health care.
Planned Parenthood operates 21 health-care centers in Wisconsin, two of which provide abortion care. The affiliate recently closed a clinic that offered abortion care in Appleton.