The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal today by Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to overturn the temporary injunction against a Wisconsin law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin signed the bill into law in July 2013. The requirements would likely force two of Wisconsin’s four clinics to close and limit services offered at a third clinic. None of the surviving clinics offer abortions after 19 weeks of pregnancy. Women may also face significant waiting periods at the remaining Wisconsin clinics and others may be forced to travel upwards of 85 miles to access an abortion provider outside of the state.
Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services filed a suit in federal court shortly after the law’s passage, arguing that the admitting privileges requirements create an undue burden for women seeking abortions and thus violates the precedent set by Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. The suit also stipulates that the law unconstitutionally targets abortion doctors over doctors who practice other forms of medicine.
U.S. District Judge William Conley froze enforcement of the law in August 2013 pending a federal hearing on the constitutionality of the regulations. Van Hollen appealed Conley’s injunction, but both the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago and now the Supreme Court have upheld the injunction. Conley heard arguments in late May and has yet to release his final ruling on the constitutionality of the admitting privileges requirement. However, during the hearing, Conley critiqued the law, saying:
There is no mechanism to bring a new physician on board unless he’s already received admitting privileges, which remains a burden considering the difficulty in recruiting these physicians generally.
Conley highlights the difficulty doctors across the country face in acquiring admitting privileges. Some have been denied access due to a hospital’s concern about its reputation while others have been blocked from receiving admitting privileges because it was unlikely they would meet the medical center’s requirement that outpatient doctors admit a certain number of patients each year. The general safety of abortions means abortion doctors will rarely have to admit patients into a local hospital, and will thus not meet admitting quotas. Others have pointed out that admitting privileges are unnecessary given that any hospital would admit a woman who is experiencing complications from an abortion, regardless of whether her abortion provider had admitting privileges at that hospital.
The Wisconsin law is particularly troubling due to the waiting periods the clinic closures are creating. For example, women have been forced to wait up to 10 weeks to meet with an abortion provider. By that time, many women will be farther than 19 weeks into pregnancy and will be unable to receive treatment anywhere in the state. The admitting privileges thus effectively ban abortions without improving the quality of healthcare available to women. In fact, the resulting waiting periods actively hinder a woman’s ability to receive quality healthcare by forcing women to get later-term abortions and thus increasing their chances of experiencing complications.
Photo of Gov. Scott Walker, courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia.