By Dave Andrusko
As of today, two courts are grappling with challenges to state requirements that abortionists have admitting privileges in a local hospital: Wisconsin and Alabama.
It was the plaintiffs turn this morning to try to convince U.S. District Judge William Conley that the portion of Wisconsin’s Act 37 (also known as Sonya’s Law) requiring an abortionist to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic is “unnecessary, generates bureaucratic hoops for abortion clinics and creates delays for women seeking the procedures,” in the words of AP reporter Todd Richmond.
The bill passed with healthy margins in both houses last year and in July Gov. Scott Walker signed the measure into law. The same day, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Affiliated Medical Services (AMS) challenged that provision in federal court. (The lawsuit did not affect that portion of Sonya’s Law requiring that women seeking abortions in Wisconsin be given the opportunity to see their unborn children through ultrasound. That part of the law had already gone in to effect.)
After Judge Michael Conley issued his July 2013 preliminary injunction blocking the law from taking effect, the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) asked the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to lift the injunction. As we reported in December the three-judge panel refused.
Planned Parenthood had to jettison its original argument that the requirement was an “undue burden” for them since it had subsequently obtained admitting privileges for its Appleton clinic.
Dr. Kathy King, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s medical director, instead argued that because AMS had not obtained these privileges, women would turn to PP and overwhelm their clinics.
According to the Associated Press, “State attorneys maintain the law promotes a more thorough evaluation of abortion providers’ competency and ensures continuity of care if a woman develops complications that force her to visit a hospital.” In addition, Richmond wrote, “They also argue there’s no longer a need for the Appleton clinic to close and AMS’ providers haven’t tried hard enough to get admitting privileges.”
Meanwhile the trial in Montgomery, Alabama, that began a week ago Monday resumed today in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson. At issue is the lawsuit against Alabama’s HB57 which, likewise, requires an abortionist to have admitting privileges in a local hospital.
In a little over two hours of testimony this morning, Dr. James Anderson, a family practice and emergency room doctor, testified it “would benefit women to have abortion doctors with admitting privileges at a local hospital,” according to Brian Lyman of the Montgomery Advertiser.
“It would always be helpful,” Anderson said. “When starting off brand new with a patient, you have to be like a detective . . . if I had a call from an abortion provider giving information, I’m not at all starting in the dark.”
According to Lyman, Anderson addressed several considerations brought up by opponents. Those included
• Plaintiff witnesses have argued that there is no need for admitting privileges at a nearby hospital since there are so few complications from abortions. “However, Anderson argued that the connection with the physician providing the abortion could help him diagnose any bleeding or infection that may result from an abortion, saying that the stigma some attach to abortion sometimes means they do not tell doctors they’ve had one,” Lyman reported. Dr. Anderson added, “When you get a 14 or 15-year-old lady who’s had an abortion and is scared to death, you can’t get an answer from her.”
• “Witness for the plaintiffs have said doctors need to guarantee a certain number of admissions to hospitals before privileges can be granted, and have argued that applying for privileges they know will be rejected could call their professionalism into question,” Lyman wrote. But responding to Assistant Attorney General Jim Davis, Anderson “said that hospitals would only report rejections of admission applications to a national database if there was an issue of patient safety involved.”
Anderson also challenged plaintiffs’ assertions that abortion was a safe procedure.