On Monday a federal judge in Alabama is expected to issue his ruling on the constitutionality of a state law requiring doctors performing abortions at clinics in the state to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. These types of laws have popped up across the country, masquerading as attempts by state governments to protect the safety of women seeking abortions when, in fact, they are onerous and unnecessary requirements that effectively curb access to abortions, particularly for women with lower incomes and fewer resources for traveling great distances.
Four states currently have recently passed laws requiring admitting privileges and another nine require either admitting privileges or an alternative arrangement, such as a connection with another physician with admitting privileges, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit group that researches statistics on abortion and other reproductive issues and advocates for reproductive rights. Two states — Oklahoma and Louisiana — just passed laws that have yet to go into effect.
There are court actions either ongoing or recently ended in those four states with laws on admitting privilege laws passed since 2010. Last week, a federal appeals court blocked a Mississippi law from being enforced — because it would have closed down the state's sole abortion clinic, placing an undue burden on women in Mississippi seeking abortions. They would have to leave the state in most cases to get an abortion. (Private doctors in states with restrictive laws and an atmosphere of hostility to abortion rarely perform abortions in their offices.)
But the court didn't strike down the law. It just stopped it from being enforced while a legal battle continues over the law in a federal district court. Still, the fact that the federal appeals panel ruled that Mississippi was reneging on its state obligation to make legal abortion available will be a tough hurdle to get past at the trial level.
On the other hand, an appellate court panel in the same circuit as the Mississippi case upheld Texas' law requiring abortion doctors to have local admitting privileges. That leaves Texas with a few providers, though none in the Rio Grande Valley, an area the size of the state of Connecticut. The appellate panel said that the state had a rational basis for having the law and that the burden placed on women was not onerous.
Meanwhile, people are waiting for a decision in Wisconsin over its version of the admitting privileges law. If it goes into effect there (and it's currently enjoined, pending court action) it will effectively close one of Wisconsin's four abortion clinics — the busiest one — and leave the already overburdened three remaining clinics to make up for the closed one.
And why can’t doctors get privileges at local hospitals? Because there are numerous hoops to jump through to get privileges, and in some states local hospitals won’t extend privileges to doctors precisely because they perform abortions, even if they do it elsewhere, according to an
In Alabama there are two abortion clinics where doctors have admitting privileges. (And the owner of one of those clinics has said it was a stroke of luck that he got a doctor with admitting privileges.) The remaining three clinics in the state use out-of-town doctors who practice too far away to get admitting privileges at local hospitals. Hopefully, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, who presided over this trial in Montgomery, will strike down this unnecessary law.