August 21, 2014

Federal judge blocks part of abortion law

On the same day that new state restrictions on abortions and abortion providers took effect in Wisconsin, a federal judge agreed to put a temporary hold on part of the controversial law.

In a ruling issued Monday evening, U.S. District Judge William Conley granted a motion for a temporary restraining order, blocking a requirement that doctors performing an abortion also have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic where they work. The order will remain in place at least until a full hearing on the issue is held on July 17.

In his ruling, Judge Conley called the quick action of the law “precipitous,” noting that it went from introduction to passage in the space of just a month. Conley also noted that “there is a troubling lack of justification for the hospital admitting privileges requirement.”

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin filed the challenge against the admitting privileges requirement on Friday, the same day that Governor Scott Walker signed the bill into law. The group says the rule will force the closure of its Appleton and one of its Milwaukee clinics. Judge Conley’s order means those clinics will remain open, for the time being.

Much of the debate in the Legislature focused on a provision in the bill that requires women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound performed before the procedure. Monday’s decision has no effect on that portion of the law.

Planned Parenthood has argued that law is unconstitutional, because it places a an unreasonable restriction on a woman’s access to a legal medical procedure and treats doctors who perform abortions differently than those performing other medical procedures. In a statement, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin CEO and President Teri Huyck called the ruling a “step in the right direction,” adding that they are “confident that the Court will ultimately recognize if ACT 37 is not blocked, it would unconstitutionally restrict the ability of Wisconsin women, including victims of rape and incest and women who are in need of an abortion to preserve their health, to access safe and legal abortions.”

A spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Justice declined to comment on Monday’s order.