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Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Abortion Law Remains Enjoined in Wisconsin

CHICAGO (CN) - The 7th Circuit upheld a one-year hold on a law that requires Wisconsin doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of their clinics.

In Wisconsin, only doctors may perform abortions. Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin sued the state this past July over an even more restrictive provision that limits the doctors who perform abortions to those with hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of their clinic.

Several states have enacted laws with an "admitting privileges" rule as a back-door way to restrict or prohibit abortion.

The nonprofit said in its complaint that, "if allowed to take effect, the act would require plaintiff Affiliated Medical Services to shut down entirely, and would strip plaintiff Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin of the ability to provide abortions in Appleton (resulting in the closure of that health center) and severely curtail its ability to provide abortions in Milwaukee. This will make abortion unavailable in Wisconsin after 19 weeks of pregnancy, leave all areas north of Madison without an abortion provider, and severely restrict the availability of abortions in the remainder of the state." (Parentheses in original.)

Hospitals often grant privileges only to physicians who guarantee a minimum number of annual referrals, a requirement the abortion providers cannot meet because abortion problems that require hospitalization are rare.

U.S. District Judge William Conley quickly enjoined the law, finding a "troubling lack of justification for the hospital admitting privileges requirement," and that women will certainly face irreparable harm if they cannot get an abortion without being forced to travel long distances.

The 7th Circuit upheld the ruling on appeal Friday.

"Had enforcement of the statute not been stayed, two of the state's four abortion clinics - one in Appleton and one in Milwaukee - would have had to shut down because none of their doctors had admitting privileges at a hospital within the prescribed 30 - mile radius of the clinics, and a third clinic would have lost the services of half its doctors," Judge Richard Posner Wrote for a three-judge panel.

On July 5, the date Planned Parenthood sued, not one of the seven doctors in Wisconsin who perform abortions had visiting privileges at a hospital within 25 miles of their clinics.

Five months later, at the time oral arguments were heard before the 7th Circuit, the application of one of the doctors had been denied, and none of the other applications had been granted.

"The impossibility of compliance with the statute even by doctors fully qualified for admitting privileges is a compelling reason for the preliminary injunction," Posner wrote.

Furthermore, there is "no documentation of medical need" to support the stated rationale behind the 30-mile requirement: that a woman will get better continuity of care if the doctor who performed the abortion has admitting privileges at a nearby hospital should she require hospitalization.

"No other procedure performed outside a hospital, even one as invasive as a surgical abortion (such as a colonoscopy, or various arthroscopic or laparoscopic procedures), and even if performed when the patient is under general anesthesia, and even though more than a quarter of all surgery in the United States is now performed outside of hospitals, is required by Wisconsin law to be performed by doctors who have admitting privileges at hospitals within a specified, or indeed any, radius of the clinic at which the procedure is performed," the 50-page judgment states (parentheses in original).

For the state to treat surgical abortion differently than other surgical procedures, especially others that have a much higher rate of complications, raises an issue of equal protection, Posner said.

While a trial on the merit may "cast the facts we have recited ... in a different light," the facts presented thus far warrant a one-year injunction, which should allow time for the case to be tried and judged, the court ruled.

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