MADISON, Wis. (CN) – The appeals process is underway Monday after a federal judge struck down parts of a Wisconsin law limiting access to abortions.
Gov. Scott Walker reportedly continues to defend the constitutionality of Act 37 – which bars any doctor from performing abortions unless they have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of their clinic – even though U.S. District Judge William Conley found otherwise in a 93-page opinion Friday.
Access to abortions is already tough in Wisconsin where only doctors are allowed to perform the procedure, and the challenge to the additional restrictions came in July 2013 from Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin Inc. and others.
Proponents of admitting-privilege laws claim they are necessary to protect women’s health in the event of complications during an abortion procedure.
Conley agreed with detractors, however, that they are thinly veiled attempts at curtailing abortions.
“I find no reasonable doubt that the Act’s purpose was to prevent women from accessing abortion for a variety reasons,” Conley wrote.
Lawmakers hurriedly enacted the law in 2013, and gave abortion providers “two weekend days” to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic, the court found.
“The lack of any grace period is strong evidence that the legislation’s intent was to cripple abortion clinics, rather than protect women’s health in the face of complications,” Conley wrote.
Conley had quickly enjoined the law from taking effect, and the 7th Circuit upheld that injunction in 2013.
Subsequent hearings on the law featured expert testimony from doctors tapped by both parties, along with a colloquy from a court-appointed neutral doctor.
Conley cited the failure by either the Legislature or its courtroom defenders to cite reliable medical information indicating that abortions are unsafe, particularly in comparison with outpatient procedures for which the state does not require admitting privileges.
“Indeed, all Wisconsin medical organizations opposed the bill, and the only doctor who presented testimony, similarly opposed it,” the opinion states.
“While none of these reasons alone would necessarily suffice to meet plaintiffs’ high burden, when considered together, the only reasonable conclusion is that the legislation was motivated by an improper purpose, namely to restrict the availability of abortion services in Wisconsin,” Conley wrote.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s medical director praised Conley’s decision in a statement on the group’s website.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for the women of Wisconsin who can continue to access safe, legal abortion without government interference,” Dr. Kathy King said.
Walker’s office emphasized that the ruling did not disturb “the central part of the law” and its belief that “the portion of the law related to admitting privileges is constitutional.”
“Our office will work with the attorney general to appeal this ruling and we believe the law will ultimately be upheld,” a statement from Walker’s aides continues.
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