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Another Court Victory for Women’s Health: Federal Court Protects Access to Safe and Legal Abortion in Wisconsin

MADISON, WI — Marking an important victory for Wisconsin women, a federal district court today blocked a Wisconsin law requiring doctors who provide abortion to obtain hospital admitting privileges.

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Planned Parenthood Federation of America

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The court entered a preliminary injunction that indefinitely blocks the law from being enforced while a case challenging it proceeds.  The court ruled that Planned Parenthood is likely to succeed on its claim that the law would cut off women’s access to safe and legal abortion without advancing any medical interest.  To the contrary, this law could harm women’s health by closing high-quality women’s health care providers, including a Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin health center in Appleton.   

Statement from Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America:

“This is an important victory. Across the country, politicians are trying to pass laws that would cut off access to abortion and, in the process, close health centers that women rely on for lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, and preventive health care. These laws have a devastating impact on women who already have the least access to health care. As the nation’s leading provider of women’s health care, Planned Parenthood knows firsthand how dangerous these laws are for women, and that’s why we’re fighting them in state legislatures and courts across the country.

“There is no medical basis for laws like this that require doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital in order to provide abortion. Far from protecting women’s health, these laws actually jeopardize women’s health and safety. Doctors and leading medical groups oppose these laws, which are also unconstitutional.

“In Wisconsin, Texas, North Carolina, and elsewhere, we are seeing an unprecedented wave of attacks on women’s health, and people are fed up with it. These attacks have enraged and engaged a whole new generation of young women and men who are absolutely not willing to go back to a time when women didn’t have access to health care in America.”

Today’s injunction reinforces that a restriction enacted with the effect of imposing a substantial obstacle to a woman’s decision to end a pregnancy cannot be tolerated — and that this principle is a matter of settled law.  Said U.S. District Judge William M. Conley, “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.”

BACKGROUND:

  • Hospital staff privileges are a form of granted permission allowing a doctor to admit and treat patients in a specific hospital.  Having staff privileges is not a requirement for being a licensed medical provider, and is not a designation of the quality of a provider.  Every hospital has its own process and requirements for granting staff privileges. 
  • Legal abortion is extremely safe.  In fact, it is one of the safest medical procedures in the United States.  Abortion complications are rare, but those that do occur are usually handled in the health center that provided the abortion.  In the exceedingly rare event that a complication after an abortion requires hospital-based care, a woman is provided emergency care at a hospital, and staff privileges at that hospital have no impact on a woman’s ability to receive high-quality, timely care.
  • Physicians who provide safe and legal abortion at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s health centers may be unable to obtain hospital privileges for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with their quality or credentials, including the religious affiliation of the hospitals, and the bylaws of local hospitals. Given the immediate effect of the Wisconsin law when signed, the physicians did not even have time to attempt to obtain privileges.
  • On July 8, Judge Conley issued a temporary restraining order, writing “there will most certainly be irreparable harm to those women” who need access to a safe and legal medical procedure in the wake of this law signed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on July 5.
  • Wisconsin’s law is opposed by the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Hospital Association, the Wisconsin Public Health Association, the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, the Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards, and the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health.
  • If the law was not blocked, safe and legal abortion would have only been available to women in Madison and Milwaukee, forcing women in many parts of the state to travel, in many instances, at least an extra 200 miles roundtrip away from home to access safe and legal abortion — a trip existing Wisconsin law already forces them to make twice.
  • Planned Parenthood attorneys recently won a temporary restraining order against an admitting privileges requirement in Alabama that threatened to shut down three of the state’s five health centers providing safe and legal abortion.  The district court agreed the law would impose a substantial obstacle to a woman’s access to safe and legal abortion.  A similar law is also blocked in Mississippi.  

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is represented by the Wisconsin firm Cullen Weston Pines & Bach and attorneys for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Published

August 02, 2013

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Another Court Victory for Women’s Health: Federal Court Protects Access to Safe and Legal Abortion in Wisconsin