Clinics Say Alabama Law|Will Block Abortion Access

     (CN) – An Alabama law requiring all doctors who perform abortions to have staff privileges at a local hospital will unconstitutionally “shut down three-fifths of abortion providers in the state,” two clinics and a nurse claim in Federal Court.
     Planned Parenthood Southeast and Reproductive Health Services operate the only licensed abortion clinics in Montgomery, Birmingham and Mobile, according to their lawsuit in Montgomery Federal Court. The other two abortion clinics are in Tuscaloosa and Huntsville.
     The plaintiff clinics and registered nurse June Ayers say the staff-privilege requirement of House Bill 57, which was signed April 9 and goes into effect July 1, is “medically unnecessary” and “will unconstitutionally restrict the availability of abortion services in Alabama.”
     The law requires every abortion provider to have staff privileges at a nearby hospital in order to perform “procedures reasonably necessary to treat abortion-related complications.”
     But the clinics say the requirement is “completely irrelevant” because most complications “are safely and appropriately managed in the clinic setting.” When the rare complication occurs, they say, the patient is either transferred to the nearest emergency room or referred to a hospital in her area if she has already left the clinic.
     “The purpose and effect of the requirement, which is wholly unnecessary and unreasonable, is to impose a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking abortion prior to viability, in violation of their constitutional right to privacy,” the clinics claim.
     If clinics or their doctors continue providing abortions without staff privileges, they risk their clinic and medical licenses, according to the complaint.
     “In addition, any clinic administrator, such as plaintiff Ayers, who ‘knowingly and willfully permits the facility’ to operate without complying with the staff privileges requirement is guilty of a Class C felony and subject to imprisonment,” the clinics say.
     “Plaintiffs cannot comply with the staff privileges requirement,” the lawsuit state. “For a variety of reasons that differ depending on the hospital, they cannot obtain local privileges.”
     Some hospitals deny them privileges because they’re opposed to abortion on religious grounds, the plaintiffs claim. Others require doctors to perform a minimum number of hospital admissions per year, live close enough to the hospital to be on call or – in the case of university hospitals – get a faculty appointment first.
     If the law goes into effect, women in Montgomery, Birmingham and all points south will have to drive up to 200 miles for an abortion, according to the complaint.
     “In some cases, women will be unable to obtain abortions altogether because of the loss of abortion services,” the lawsuit states. “For other women, the additional travel required to the remaining licensed providers in Tuscaloosa or Huntsville will increase the costs and delay the abortion. Although abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures, the risk of complications (as well as the cost of the procedure) increases as the pregnancy advances. Given that the majority of plaintiffs’ patients are low-income, the increased costs alone will make it impossible for some women to obtain an abortion.” (Parentheses in original.)
     The clinics and Ayers want the court to declare the law unconstitutional and block state and medical officials from enforcing it.
     “By forcing most of the abortion clinics in the state to stop providing abortions, this law will make it impossible for some women to get this essential care,” said Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. “Politicians have no business placing ideology over the health care needs of Alabama’s women by interfering in one of the most personal, private decisions a woman can make.”
     The clinics and Ayers are represented by M. Wayne Sabel of Sabel & Sabel in Montgomery, and by attorneys with the ACLU Foundation of Alabama, the ACLU and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
     Defendants are Gov. Robert Bentley, Attorney General Luther Strange, Montgomery County District Attorney Ellen Brooks, Jefferson County DA Brandon Falls, Mobile County DA Ashley Rich, State Health Officer Donald Williamson, Alabama Board of Medical Examiners Chairman George Smith Jr., Medical Licensure Commission of Alabama Chairman James West and Alabama Board of Nursing President Martha Lavender.

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