Judge Puts Alabama Abortion Law on Hold

     (CN) – A federal judge on Friday blocked an Alabama law requiring all doctors who perform abortions to have staff privileges at a local hospital from going into effect Monday, saying he needs more time to weigh its legality.
     U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson granted a temporary restraining order to the two clinics and nurse who challenged the staff-privileges requirement of House Bill 57, known as the Women’s Health and Safety Act.
     “The court is persuaded that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed in their argument that the staff-privileges requirement would impose an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose abortion, thereby impeding on the Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy,” Thompson wrote in his 32-page order.
     Planned Parenthood Southeast, Reproductive Health Services and registered nurse June Ayers had argued that the law would force clinic doctors and nurses to stop providing abortions or risk being prosecuted and imprisoned for a Class C felony.
     They claim it’s nearly impossible to meet the staff-privileges requirement for a variety of reasons, such as hospitals denying them privileges based on their religious opposition to abortion. Other hospitals require doctors to admit a certain number of patients per year, live close enough to the hospital to be on call, or – in the case of university hospitals – get a faculty appointment first.
     This would effectively shut down three-fifths of the abortion providers in the state, they claimed, as the plaintiffs operate the only licensed abortion clinics in Montgomery, Birmingham and Mobile. The other two abortion clinics are in Tuscaloosa and Huntsville.
     Thompson agreed that, based on the record before him, “the law’s inevitable impact seems to be that three of Alabama’s five licensed abortion clinics would have to cease performing abortions.”
     “This absence would add not only the onus of distance for most women in Alabama (women in some parts of the state could have to travel up to 200 miles in order to obtain an in-state abortion), but also the accompanying burden of increased travel costs,” he wrote.
     Because most of the clinics’ patients are poor and without access to a car, Thompson said, “this distance would be no mere encumbrance, but an insurmountable barrier to obtaining an abortion.”
     He rejected the state’s claim that women can drive to Florida or Georgia to obtain abortions.
     “[I]t is telling that the state must resort at all to suggesting that women travel across the Alabama border to exercise their constitutional rights,” Thompson wrote.
     He noted that the number of abortion clinics in Alabama “has already dwindled from seven to five in recent years,” raising “the specter of an Alabama in which women are unable to exercise this due-process right at all.”
     Thompson granted a temporary restraining order barring the law from going into effect until the court has had the opportunity to fully evaluate the legality of HB 57.
     The law was signed April 9 and would have gone into effect July 1.
     Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, called the law “part of a coordinated national campaign designed to outlaw abortion, state by state.”
     “These laws insult women’s intelligence by claiming to be about safety, when the true intent is to shut down clinics and prevent a woman from making a real decision about her pregnancy,” she said in a statement.

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