Three-judge panel holds hour-long hearing on requirement that abortionists have hospital admitting privileges


By Dave Andrusko

7thcircuitIf news accounts can be trusted, a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals was very thorough in questioning Daniel Lennington, Wisconsin’s assistant attorney general, who was defending the state’s law requiring that abortionists have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic. On the other hand, as the Associated Press pointed out in its coverage, “Judges often play devil’s advocate during oral arguments, so questions they pose aren’t always an indication of which way they are leaning.”

Wisconsin is one of five states to recently pass laws that require abortionists to have admitting privileges to a local hospital in case there is a complication. U.S. District Judge William Conley temporarily blocked enforcement in July, then again in August. (See “Federal Judge extends hold on portion of Wisconsin pro-life law” )

In Wisconsin, the hospital admitting privileges provision was included in a law which requires that a woman seeking an abortion have an ultrasound to give her more knowledge about her unborn child. (She need not look.) That portion of the bill was not challenged in the lawsuit and took effect July 8. The bill itself (“Act 37”) was signed into law July 5.

Parallel laws are in court in North Dakota, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas.

Most recently, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld Texas’ law. On November 21, the United States Supreme Court refused to stop enforcement while the parties continue their battle in court.

Local abortionists in Wisconsin insist the requirement would force abortion facilities to close, in turn placing an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to have an abortion. Interesting Carrie Flaxman, a Planned Parenthood lawyer, told the panel that only one abortionist’s request for admitting privileges had been rejected.

“U.S. Circuit Judge David Hamilton asked Flaxman whether the legal challenge would end if in 12 months all of the doctors who sought affiliation had obtained it,” according to reporter Andrew Harris. “’No,’ she replied, saying the law would have a continuing effect on clinic operations and the ability of doctors to perform abortions at more than one facility.”

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