Federal Lawsuit Filed Today Challenges Alabama Hospital Staff Privileges Law
June 11, 2013
Montgomery, Alabama — To protect access to safe and legal abortion in Alabama, Planned Parenthood Southeast and Reproductive Health Services are challenging an Alabama law that will jeopardize women’s health by shutting down three-fifths of the licensed health centers that provide abortions in Alabama when it goes into effect July 1, 2013. Represented by the Montgomery firm Sabel & Sabel and attorneys from Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood filed a complaint against House Bill 57, which requires abortion providers to have staff admitting privileges at a local hospital. The complaint states that the bill places an undue burden on Alabama women who have made complex, deeply personal and constitutionally protected decisions to end a pregnancy, and also that it violates providers’ due process rights protected by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“We are in court to protect a woman’s ability to make her own personal, private health care decisions,” said Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast. “For over 80 years, Planned Parenthood health centers in Alabama have provided high-quality, nonjudgmental health care to women. Abortion is a deeply personal and often complex decision, but ultimately a decision that a woman should make — politics should not interfere.”
Every hospital has its own process and requirements for granting staff privileges — varying by location, provider specialty type, hospital bylaws, and other factors. Physicians for Planned Parenthood Southeast and Reproductive Health Services cannot comply with the hospital staff privileges requirement of House Bill 57 for these reasons, which have nothing to do with their quality or credentials.
“Requiring doctors who provide abortions to have staff privileges at a nearby hospital won’t make women safer and, in fact, could jeopardize their health by depriving women in Alabama access to safe, high-quality health care,” explained Anne Davis, M.D., MPH., an obstetrician-gynecologist who is the consulting medical director at Physicians for Reproductive Health. While Dr. Davis is not a party to the suit, she explained that legislation like House Bill 57 does nothing to increase patient health and safety. “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 would be 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.”
Medical experts across the country oppose laws like Alabama House Bill 57. In fact, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), opposes laws or other regulations that require abortion providers to have hospital staff privileges.
In recent years, opponents of safe and legal abortion have been pushing for hospital staff privileges requirements that apply only to physicians who provide safe and legal abortion as part of a national strategy to limit a woman’s access to abortion. The only remaining health center providing abortions in Mississippi was on the verge of closing because of a similar requirement after a law was passed there in 2012. The Mississippi law was recently enjoined by a federal district court because it would have shut down the state’s only provider of safe and legal abortions. Earlier this year, North Dakota enacted a staff privileges requirement, which could force that state’s only provider of safe and legal abortions to close, as well.
It is clear in statements from legislators that House Bill 57 was designed to do the same in Alabama. Representative Mike Hubbard, the Speaker of the Alabama House, said the bill was about “boldly defend[ing] the rights of the unborn.” During the debate over House Bill 57, State Representative Terri Collins said she was pleased the bill would limit access to safe and legal abortions in Alabama. State Representative Mac McCutcheon said plainly at a rally that the Alabama Legislature would soon be passing bills “to shut down these [abortion] clinics."
“We are confident that the Court will recognize if this law is not blocked, House Bill 57 would unconstitutionally restrict the ability of Alabama women, including victims of rape and incest, to access safe and legal abortions by imposing a medically unnecessary requirement that all physicians who perform abortions have staff privileges at a local hospital,” said Wayne Sabel, a Montgomery attorney representing Planned Parenthood Southeast and Reproductive Health Services.