Judge overturns Alabama law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges

 

By Dave Andrusko

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson

This morning’s 172-page opinion by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson that overturned an Alabama law that required abortionists to have admitting privileges came as no surprise to anyone who followed the three-week trial in May and June that Thompson held without a jury.

Equally unsurprising is that Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said his office would appeal the decision against the Women’s health and Safety Act (HB 57).

“The evidence compellingly demonstrates that the requirement would have the striking result of closing three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics, clinics which perform only early abortions, long before viability,” Thompson wrote. “Indeed, the court is convinced that, if this requirement would not, in the face of all the evidence in the record, constitute an impermissible undue burden, then almost no regulation, short of those imposing an outright prohibition on abortion, would.”

Judge Thompson’s decision came less than a week after a split three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a similar Mississippi law, although different because (according to the majority) the result would be to close the last abortion clinic in the state. (The dissent made hash of this and other arguments made by the majority– http://nrlc.cc/1kzHkoz.)

By contrast last March a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit unanimously upheld a similar Texas law.

NRL News Today ran a passel of stories about the Alabama trial which brought out many hidden truths which rarely see the light of day in the debate over admitting privileges.

The plaintiffs, Planned Parenthood Southeast and Reproductive Health Services, told Judge Thompson that their fly-in abortionists could not obtain admitting privileges in a local hospital.

The Attorney General’s office pointed to abortion clinics in Tuscaloosa and Huntsville (the state’s two largest) who have local abortionists who already have local hospital privileges. What had June Ayers, the owner of Reproductive Health Services (RHS), Staci Fox, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast and its clinics in Birmingham and Mobile, done to secure abortionists with admitting privileges?

“I never recruited someone to move here,” Ayers acknowledged.

Why didn’t the circuit-riding abortionists seek admitting privileges on their own? 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, rather than live there, 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,” according to Brian Lyman (who covered the trial for Montgomery Advertiser) because of “the doctors’ personal and professional aspirations.”

At trial there was testimony of the importance of continuity of care—that when there are complications, the abortionist must be in a position to attend the woman at a local hospital—which Judge Thompson summarily dismissed in his decision.

For instance, George Smith, chairman of the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, testified “that one of the board’s aims is to ensure patients who experience complications from medical procedures get adequate follow-up care,” according to Lyman. “The board’s feeling is the person who does the procedure is responsible if there’s a complication.”

And, in a little over two hours of testimony, 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 Lyman’s reporting.

“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.”

While plaintiff witnesses argued that there is no need for admitting privileges at a nearby hospital since there are supposedly so few complications from abortions, “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.”

Moreover as we explained back in May, attorneys for the state brought out that last year two employees of Planned Parenthood’s Birmingham office were found selling abortion drugs in the parking lot. Everyone— the medical director of Planned Parenthood Southeast’s clinics in Birmingham and Mobile, identified only as “Dr. Roe–was fired.

According to Lyman’s story, when Roe testified

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.

Please join those who are following me on Twitter at twitter.com/daveha. Send your comments to daveandrusko@gmail.com.