Federal judge blocks new Wisconsin abortion law

MADISON, Wis. — A federal judge issued an injunction Friday blocking a portion of a new Wisconsin law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

U.S. District Judge William Conley’s order stems from a lawsuit Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services filed in July. The organizations say the law would force a Planned Parenthood clinic in Appleton and an AMS clinic in Milwaukee to close because abortion providers at both facilities lack admitting privileges.

Conley issued a temporary hold on the provisions on July 8. The organizations asked him to issue a preliminary injunction that would block the requirement through a trial set to begin Nov. 25. Conley’s order granting the injunction means the two clinics will remain open at least until that trial concludes.

Conley justified the injunction by finding state attorneys aren’t likely to prove the admitting privileges requirement is reasonably related to a woman’s health and the organizations probably can show the mandate poses a substantial obstacle to obtaining abortions.

“Given the substantial likelihood of success on the merits and of irreparable harm, the public’s interest is best serviced by imposing a preliminary injunction on enforcement of the admitting privileges requirement until this court can address its merits after trial,” Conley wrote.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a GOP bill on July 5, making Wisconsin one of several states where hospital admitting privileges are required for abortion providers. A similar mandate was included in sweeping legislation that Texas lawmakers approved in July after weeks of protests. The only abortion clinic still operating in Mississippi is fighting in federal court to stay open after a 2012 state law imposed admitting privilege requirements on it.

Planned Parenthood and AMS filed their lawsuit the day Walker signed the bill. The groups argued women would have to travel hundreds of miles farther to obtain abortions at Planned Parenthood facilities in Madison and Milwaukee, where providers have admitting privileges. They also say the law unconstitutionally restricts the availability of abortions in Wisconsin, violates the U.S. Constitution’s due process guarantee and unconstitutionally treats abortion providers different than other doctors.

They’ve also argued that losing the Appleton Planned Parenthood clinic and the AMS facility would create scheduling delays at the state’s remaining clinics as they cope with more demand. They contend, too, that closing the AMS clinic would effectively end abortions after 19 weeks in Wisconsin because no other facility offers them after that point.

State Department of Justice attorneys defending the law have countered the requirement is meant to ensure continuity of care if a woman develops complications following an abortion. They maintain driving longer distances to obtain an abortion from a provider with admitting privileges isn’t an undue burden and providers at the Appleton and AMS Milwaukee clinics should apply for privileges. The organizations’ attorneys counter the application process can take months.

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