What did we learn from the pro-abortion lawsuit challenging Alabama’s admitting privileges law?


By Dave Andrusko

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson

This post is an update on the coverage NRL News Today offered in the recent lawsuit against Alabama’s 2013 law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges in a local hospital. The most recent story appeared here.

Since we could not there in person, we relied on accounts from the Associated Press and Brian Lyman, a reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser. Over the weekend Lyman posted “5 things learned in the Alabama abortion trial.”

I think it’s fair to say he sides with the plaintiffs (actually more than fair). Here are a few highlights.

Lyman accepts on face value every abortionist’s or abortion clinic’s insistence that abortion is safe, safe, and safe. There was counter-testimony that Lyman hinted at in his summary, fleshed out in his reporting, that insisted many complications simply aren’t reported. As we’ve discussed countless times, it’s not just Kermit Gosnell’s whose clinic goes 15-17 years without inspection or which pro-abortion organizations manage to see are filthy and dangerous but never tell authorities.

Lyman is absolutely correct on one count. Disproportionally poor women–disproportionately women of color—have abortions. That is a tremendous tragedy.

Lyman’s summary of who does abortions in Alabama, however, doesn’t do justice to his trial coverage. It is quite true that Alabama is not welcoming to abortionists—and good for Alabamans. But clearly something more is at play that explains why the owners of the abortion clinics would have to concede that none of their “traveling doctors” had ever tried to secure admitting privileges.

Why do they fly into the state to perform abortions at Planned Parenthood and the Montgomery-based Reproductive Health Services? Not just because of an unwelcoming community. They are “unwilling to live near the clinics,” Lyman writes because of “the doctors’ personal and professional aspirations.”

A complementary consideration Lyman did a good job of developing in his coverage but not so well in his summary is that it would be fair to say the clinics were not exactly overly-aggressive in seeking abortionists who already had admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Lyman argues the state is “focused” on Planned Parenthood. PP has abortion clinics in Birmingham and Mobile—one good reason to pay extra attention. Also “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,” according to the Associate Press’s Philip Rawls. “[CEO Staci] Fox said the clinic hopes to get approval from the state health department to reopen by next month.”

Moreover (as Lyman’s own reporting demonstrated) the testimony of the medical director of Planned Parenthood Southeast’s clinics in Birmingham (and Mobile) left a lot to be desired.

[Assistant Attorney General Margaret] Fleming asked Roe if the clinic had followed up with patients following the closing of the facility in January, saying there was no documentation of follow-up calls to patients in the medical records of the facility. Fleming also said that the staff delegated to make the phone calls had been dismissed.

Roe said the clinic did do the follow ups. “It was not documented, but the calls were made,” she said.

Fleming also questioned whether the clinic’s back-up physician had a substantial role in the clinic, citing Roe’s earlier testimony that she would refer patients experiencing complications to a hospital. Roe said she made those judgments on a case-by-case basis.

Fleming also pressed Roe on whether the Birmingham clinic was in compliance with Alabama Department of Public Health regulations that require physicians performing abortions to contact emergency room doctors when patients are admitted with complications. Roe said the clinic “facilitates and complies” with physicians in treatment.

“Your own protocol is inconsistent with the rules of the Alabama Department of Public Health in this case,” Fleming said.

“Yes, ma’am,” Roe replied.

But equally important than as the five Lyman mentions are several he misses. To name just one, a key component in the case for requiring admitting privileges is continuity of care. Several witnesses, including George Smith, chairman of the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, testified on its importance –as they did in the lawsuit against the Wisconsin law—but not a word in Lyman’s summary.

He also managed to miss what Rawls mentioned early: “The Alabama Department of Public Health reports the two clinics not threatened by the law are the state’s largest, with the Tuscaloosa clinic performing 3,503 abortions in 2012 and the Huntsville clinic 1,451.”

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit has upheld a similar Texas law. Comparable laws have been passed (and challenged) in Mississippi and (as noted above) Wisconsin.