Fed court upholds injunction on Wis. abortion law

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A federal appeals court panel Friday upheld an injunction delaying Wisconsin’s new law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, writing state attorneys failed to show implementing the law quickly would protect women’s health.

The three-judge panel from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld U.S. District Judge William Conley’s preliminary injunction. Judge Richard Posner wrote in a 25-page lead opinion that the law unreasonably gave providers just two days to obtain admitting privileges. Delaying the law’s implementation shouldn’t hurt because abortion complications are rare and nothing shows such privileges make any difference to a woman’s health, he added.

“The state can without harm to its legitimate interests wait a few months more to implement its new law, should it prevail in this litigation,” Posner wrote.

The GOP-authored law requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles. Nearly a dozen other states have similar laws. Wisconsin Republicans contend the law ensures continuity of care if a woman experiences complications following an abortion. Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed the law July 5, a Friday. Under Wisconsin statutes governing when laws become effective, the measure would have gone into effect July 8, the following Monday.

Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services filed a federal lawsuit the day Walker signed the measure, alleging the law would force the organizations to close two abortion clinics, in Appleton and Milwaukee, because providers at both facilities lack admitting privileges. Conley issued a temporary restraining order blocking the law from taking effect July 8 and the next month issued an injunction delaying implementation pending the outcome of a November trial.

State attorneys appealed the injunction to the 7th Circuit; Conley has stayed the trial pending the appeal’s outcome.

Posner wrote that allowing the law to go into effect July 8 would have “wreaked havoc” with abortions in Wisconsin.

Doctors couldn’t be expected to obtain admitting privileges over the two-day weekend window, he wrote. Doctors would have needed months to obtain privileges and women would have had to drive hundreds of miles further for abortions if the Appleton clinic closed, he wrote.

State attorneys failed to show implementing the law that fast would help cut down on abortion complications or prevent them, he wrote.

Other states with similar laws imposed far longer implementation deadlines, he wrote. Physicians don’t need admitting privileges to perform any other medical procedures in Wisconsin, he added. Abortion complications are rare anyway, he wrote, citing the state’s own report that only 11 complications resulted from Wisconsin residents’ 6,692 abortions in 2012. And nothing shows admitting privileges make any difference in quality of care for complications, he wrote.

“There is no evidence that women who have complications from an abortion recover more quickly or more completely or with less pain or discomfort if their physician has admitting privileges …,” he wrote.

Dana Brueck, a spokeswoman for the state Justice Department, which is defending the law, said agency attorneys are reviewing the decision.

Larry Dupuis, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing Affiliated Medical Services in the case, said in a statement he was pleased with the ruling. Lester Pines, an attorney representing Planned Parenthood, said the opinion provides a “road map” for what evidence to present trial. He said he expects that proceeding will be rescheduled within the next few weeks.

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