MADISON –– A federal judge in Madison has extended a preliminary injunction blocking part of a new Wisconsin law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic.
The order, issued Aug. 2 by U.S. District Judge William Conley, stems from a lawsuit that Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services filed in July. The groups claim the law would shut two of the state's four abortion clinics because providers at those facilities, in Appleton and Milwaukee, lack admitting privileges.
Conley issued a temporary restraining order July 8. The injunction blocks the requirement through trial proceedings about the law's constitutionality, set to begin Nov. 25. Until Conley's final ruling, the two clinics currently without admitting privileges can remain open.
The provision of the law requiring ultrasounds for pregnant women considering an abortion is still in full effect.
In his ruling, Conley found that the health groups probably can show that the requirement on admitting privileges presents 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," he wrote in the 44-page opinion.
The judge also said he was skeptical that state attorneys could prove the mandate protects women's health.
"Even if there were some evidence that the admitting privileges requirement would actually further women's health, any benefit is greatly outweighed by the burdens caused by increased travel, decreased access and, at least for some women, the denial of an in-state option for abortion services."
However, Susan Armacost, legislative director of Wisconsin Right to life, said the new law is on sound constitutional footing. Nine other states have passed laws requiring abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges. Missouri's admitting privilege law was challenged and upheld by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Without such a law, she said, when a woman in Wisconsin suffers "hemorrhaging or other life-threatening complications after an abortion," the abortion clinic sends her to a hospital by ambulance alone and she is has to "explain her medical issues to the emergency room staff" by herself. Armacost called that a "deplorable situation."
Elsewhere in the state, a clinic that has performed abortions for many years in Green Bay was sold to Bellin Health Systems, effective Aug. 1.
The current owner of Ob-Gyn Associates Clinic, Dr. Robert DeMott, said he will become an employee of Bellin and as a condition of employment, may not provide abortion services to any patient.
"It is extremely gratifying to hear that Bellin Health Services will not be performing abortions when they assume ownership of Ob-Gyn Associates," said Armacost.
"Whether Bellin made a purely business decision or one based on an objection to abortion, it is clear that most health care providers do not want to be tainted with the title 'abortion provider,'" she continued. "Regardless of where individual health care professionals may personally stand on the legality of abortion, the overwhelming majority of them do not want to be associated with the taking of human life for profit."