U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson ruled on Monday that a recently passed law requiring abortion providers to obtain staff privileges at local hospitals places an unconstitutional, undue burden on women seeking an abortion. Thompson’s decision will block enforcement of the law until he determines whether to issue a permanent injunction.
The new law would have shut down three of the state’s five abortion clinics, forcing women seeking an abortion to travel up to 200 miles to access another clinic in the state. In a surprising approach, Judge Thompson put the issue into perspective for those unconcerned with abortion rights but adamant about other rights granted to them—namely, the right to bear arms:
Suppose, for the public weal, the federal or state government were to implement a new restriction on who may sell firearms and ammunition and on the procedure they must employ in selling such goods and that, further, only two vendors in the state of Alabama were capable of complying with the restriction … The defenders of this law would be called upon to do a heck of a lot of explaining—and rightly so in the face of an effect so severe.
Although strictly regulating gun vendors may serve a public health interest, requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals does not. Abortion is a very safe medical procedure, and clinics have emergency procedures in place in the rare event of a serious complication. Furthermore, hospitals will admit emergency patients even if their doctor does not have admitting privileges. What these restrictions do, however, is prevent local as well as out-of-area doctors from providing abortions in underserved areas where admitting privileges are denied.
Laws targeting abortion providers (TRAP laws) are in place in 26 states around the country. Ten new TRAP laws have been introduced in state legislatures in 2014 alone. In Mississippi, a recent TRAP law would have shut down the state’s only remaining abortion clinic if a federal appellate court had not blocked its implementation. This week, women in Texas are fighting a law that would leave almost 1 million women at least 150 miles away from access to a safe abortion. Hopefully the Texas judge will follow Judge Thompson’s lead and demand “a heck of a lot of explaining” for these pointless regulations.