By Dave Andrusko
On the first day of the trial in the lawsuit challenging Alabama’s law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges in a local hospital, the owner of two abortion clinics and a lawyer for the Alabama Attorney General clashed repeatedly over the impact of Alabama’s HB57.
The exchanges between June Ayers, the owner of Reproductive Health Services (RHS), Staci Fox, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast and its clinics in Birmingham and Mobile, and the lawyer for the attorney general’s office brought out considerations rarely heard in the debate over admitting privileges.
Ayers testified that the law would make it harder for low-income women to get abortions, reported the Associated Press’s Phillip Rawls. “If I close my doors, their access is dramatically, dramatically reduced,” Ayers said.
(One set of doors has already closed, and not because of HB 57. “The Birmingham clinic of Planned Parenthood Southeast ceased operations in January after firing two staff members for selling an abortion medication to a person in the clinic’s parking lot,” Rawls reported. “Fox said the clinic hopes to get approval from the state health department to reopen by next month.”)
The attorney general’s office argued that abortionist fly into Alabama and, after a few hours are gone, but are not around to deal with complications. “Lawyers from the state attorney general’s office said they will present witnesses, including physicians, who will testify that having a doctor on hand to manage problems and admit a patient to the hospital will improve the quality of care,” Rawls reported.
Both women insisted complications are rare and that the abortionists would, for a variety of reasons, be unable to gain admitting privileges. But both Ayers and Fox conceded that none of their “traveling doctors” had ever tried to secure admitting privileges.
In addition, the Attorney General’s office pointed to abortion clinics in Tuscaloosa and Huntsville who use local abortionists who already have hospital privileges. What had Ayers and Fox done to find local abortionists?
“I never recruited someone to move here,” Ayers acknowledged.
There was more background that came to light Monday. For example, eight years ago the Alabama Department of Public Health required abortion clinics to secure a backup physician for after hours and emergency care. “RHS eventually contracted with a local OBGYN as a backup, but that was after the clinic was sanctioned for not having one during an emergency situation with a patient who had received abortion services from RHS,” according to Max Reiss of WAFF-TV.
The lawyer for the attorney general’s office reminded Ayers “that the clinic was able to comply with the 2006 backup physician requirement and there’s no reason it couldn’t comply now.”
In the afternoon, a sociologist testified that if abortion clinics were to close in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Mobile, it would cost low-income women to go elsewhere for their abortions.
“The lawyer for Alabama’s Attorney General attempted to counter by informing Katz that a woman in Mobile could simply travel to Pensacola, a 58 mile drive, in order to have an abortion,” Rawls reported.
In an earlier story, Rawls noted that the two largest abortion clinics—in Tuscaloosa and Huntsville—would not be affected by HB57.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit recently upheld a similar Texas law [http://nrlc.cc/1ndW090]. Comparable laws have been passed in Mississippi [http://nrlc.cc/1ndWWKJ] and Wisconsin [http://nrlc.cc/1jMTl2p] but have been challenged by the usual suspects. A trial over Wisconsin’s law starts May 27.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson is presiding over the case. Witnesses will testify in Montgomery, Alabama, through June 5 with a ruling to come at a later date.
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