Federal judge extends hold on Wisc. abortion requirement

Opponents of a series of Republican-backed bills dealing with abortions hold their hands over their mouths while watching debate in the state Assembly on...
Opponents of a series of Republican-backed bills dealing with abortions hold their hands over their mouths while watching debate in the state Assembly on...
Scott Bauer/AP

A federal judge extended the hold on a portion of Wisconsin’s new abortion law that critics have said would shutter clinics.

U.S. District Judge William Conley left in place Wednesday a temporary block on new legislation that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The law, signed by the state’s Republican governor earlier in the month, also requires women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound before the procedure.

Judge Conley indicated that he will rule within two weeks on whether to issue an injunction, which would block the admitting privileges requirement through trial, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), its local affiliate, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its local affiliate filed suit hours after Gov. Scott Walker signed the legislation on July 5, and Judge Conley issued a temporary restraining order the following Monday on that portion of the law. The federal challenge alleges that the requirement violates the U.S. Constitution’s due process protections and treats abortion providers differently from doctors who perform other procedures.

Planned Parenthood attorneys argued that the law would close down two clinics–one in Appleton, and the other in Milwaukee–and further decrease capacity by at least 50% in one of the two remaining clinics. After the 19th week of pregnancy, the lawsuit says, abortions would not be available anywhere in the state.

“This will have a huge impact to women in Wisconsin,” said Tanya Atkinson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, on msnbc Wednesday, prior to Conley’s decision. “As the judge commented, we have women who are travelling upward of six to 10 hours to receive access to care, and to shut down two of the four remaining centers, and greatly reduce the capacity of the other two will really have in indelible impact.”

In his July 8 order to grant the temporary stay, Judge Conley said that there was a “troubling lack of justification for the hospital admitting privileges requirement” and that it looked to have “no medical purpose.”

But backers of the law argued that the measure would benefit both fetuses and pregnant women. Daniel Lennington, an assistant attorney general with the state Department of Justice, told Conley in the first hearing that the plaintiffs hadn’t “provided any proof that a woman’s right to an abortion is unduly burdened.”

Before Gov. Walker signed this legislation, Wisconsin already had some of the strictest abortion laws on the books–such as 24-hour waiting periods, mandatory state-directed counseling, and denial of abortion coverage in state health plans, except in cases of rape, incest, or when the health of the mother is at stake.

Walker’s most recent budget defunded Planned Parenthood and forced four clinics to close their doors.

“Since Gov. Walker has taken office, we have seen reductions in access to healthcare,” said Atkinson. “It’s not just about Planned Parenthood. In the most recent state budget, about 100,000 people will lose access to our Medicaid program, which we call BadgerCare, because the governor refused to take the Medicaid expansion dollars.”

“When you look at everything in its entirety, it’s a really, really tough place to be a woman right now,” she said.

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