In a decision issued three weeks after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments against a similar Texas TRAP law, a federal judge on Friday permanently blocked a provision in an Alabama law that would close almost all of the state’s abortion clinics by unnecessarily requiring providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson had previously found that the Alabama law, part of the 2013 Women’s Health and Safety Act, was unconstitutional as it created an undue burden on women seeking abortion. In that opinion, Judge Thompson detailed the long history of violence against Alabama abortion providers, noting that violence and hostility created significant obstacles to recruiting local doctors, who could perhaps – though not certainly – obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals. The effect of the law would therefore have been to close 3 of the state’s 5 abortion clinics.
As a result of Judge Thompson’s earlier ruling, the Alabama admitting privileges requirement was temporarily blocked. At that time, the court asked the parties in the case, including Reproductive Health Services and Planned Parenthood Southeast, to provide more information about whether a permanent injunction of the law was necessary.
On Friday, Judge Thompson issued that permanent injunction, finding that the law could not be constitutionally repaired. In his opinion, Judge Thompson noted that any admitting privileges requirement would “make it impossible for a woman to obtain an abortion in much of the state,” unduly burdening at least 40 percent of women seeking abortion services.
“We applaud the court for protecting women’s access to safe, legal abortion in Alabama,” said Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards. “As a health care provider, we’ve seen the grim consequences for women when politicians put safe abortion out of reach.”
An admitting privileges requirement is one of the issues at the heart of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court case which also challenges the constitutionality of regulations that force clinics to meet the requirements of ambulatory surgical centers. The Texas law at issue in the Whole Woman’s Health case has forced more than half the state’s clinics to close, increased wait times for care, and has forced over 100,000 women to self-induce abortion, according to research conducted by Texas Policy Evaluation Project.
Although the Whole Woman’s Health case arose because of a Texas law, the Supreme Court’s ruling could affect abortion access for women in other states – like Florida, whose governor just signed an admitting privileges requirement into law on Friday, along with a measure to cut state funding to abortion clinics, like Planned Parenthood, that provide preventive services.
A decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt is expected this summer.
Media Resources: AL.com 3/25/16; New York Times 3/25/16; Feminist Newswire 3/3/16, 10/12/15, 8/5/14; Texas Policy Evaluation Project 11/17/15