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Saturday, December 27, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 37.0° F  Fog/Mist
The Paper
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An anti-abortion strategy shift in Wisconsin
New clinic rules -- including mandating hospital admitting privileges -- are top priorities
Conley found a 'troubling lack of justification' for the new rules.
Conley found a 'troubling lack of justification' for the new rules.

During the rushed 10 days of deliberation over Senate Bill 206 last month, almost all of the discussion -- and controversy -- focused on the provision requiring that women have an ultrasound before getting an abortion. In fact, that is the only directive Gov. Scott Walker identified in his July 5 news release announcing he had signed the bill: "Senate Bill 206 -- relates to requirements to perform abortions, requiring an ultrasound before informed consent for an abortion, and providing a penalty."

Yet even before Walker's release went out, opponents announced plans to sue over another requirement in the bill -- that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.

As promised, the ACLU of Wisconsin and Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin filed a complaint in federal court July 5 seeking a temporary restraining order that bars the admitting privileges provision from taking effect. The groups alleged that the provision would "unconstitutionally restrict the availability of abortion services in Wisconsin by imposing a medically unnecessary requirement" on providers.

Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Conley agreed with the plaintiffs' arguments and issued a temporary restraining order July 8 after a hearing at the federal courthouse in Madison.

"There is a troubling lack of justification for the hospital admitting privilege requirement," Conley wrote in his decision. He said the United States Supreme Court had ruled that states must prove that a "medical requirement is 'reasonably directed to the preservation of maternal health.'

"The record to date strongly supports a finding that no medical purpose is served by this requirement," he said.

The temporary restraining order will remain in place until a hearing is held on July 17 on a preliminary injunction.

With the admitting privileges requirement in place, abortion providers say that Affiliated Medical Services in Milwaukee and Planned Parenthood's clinic in Appleton would have to shut down entirely, and that Planned Parenthood's clinic in Milwaukee would also have to cut back services. Affiliated Medical Services is the only clinic in the state performing late-term abortions.

The providers argued in their complaint that this would "make abortion unavailable in Wisconsin after 19 weeks of pregnancy, leave all areas north of Madison without an abortion provider, and severely restrict the availability of abortions in the remainder of the state.

"The purpose and effect of the requirement, which is wholly unnecessary and unreasonable, is to impose a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking abortion prior to viability, in violation of their constitutional right to privacy."

Judging from Wisconsin Right to Life's response July 5 to news of the impending lawsuit, it would be difficult to deny that was not the group's intent in pushing what it calls Sonya's Law, its top legislative priority of the session.

"News flash: Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin announced it will challenge Sonya's Law in federal court because TWO Wisconsin abortion clinics will close and another will be reduced to 50% capacity. Isn't that the best news ever!!!"

According to a recent analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, a research and education center devoted to sexual and reproductive health, 21 states require abortion facilities or their clinicians to have connections to a local hospital. Authors Rachel Benson Gold and Elizabeth Nash say these regulations are part of a second wave of restrictions designed to make abortion inaccessible. Whereas anti-abortion groups once worked to pass such patient restrictions as 24-hour waiting periods and counseling scripts, the focus is now on the providers themselves and licensing requirements.

"Having mostly exhausted legal means of discouraging women from choosing abortion, opponents recently have stepped up their efforts to block clinics from providing them."

More than half the states now have laws instituting licensing requirements, known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider (TRAP) laws, according to the report. Gold and Nash say they have "nothing to do with protecting women and everything to do with shutting down clinics."

A law requiring that physicians performing abortions in Mississippi be board-certified obstetrician-gynecologists, or eligible for certification, has threatened to close the state's only abortion clinic. A federal judge there ruled the state can't enforce the law, but a challenge is now pending.

Receiving admitting privileges at a hospital is not automatic, says Nicole Safar, political director at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. It involves the "politics" of the hospital and its "financial interests," she says. "It has nothing to do with the quality of health care provided."

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