American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin
Press Release

Planned Parenthood and ACLU in Federal Court Tuesday to Protect Safe and Legal Abortion in Wisconsin

Trial Begins Tuesday in Case Challenging Dangerous Restrictions that Restrict Safe and Legal Abortion Statewide

By - May 23rd, 2014 05:27 pm

A trial begins Tuesday in federal court in a lawsuit seeking to permanently block a harmful Wisconsin law that could further restrict abortion in that state. The plaintiffs in this case are Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Affiliated Medical Services. They are represented by attorneys from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin firm Cullen, Weston, Pines & Bach.

The law requires abortion providers to obtain staff privileges at local hospitals. Leading national medical groups, such as the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, oppose laws like these because they do not enhance patient safety. In fact, these laws put women at risk because they make it more difficult for quality health care providers to remain open.

“Let me be clear: This law was designed by politicians, not doctors, with the single-minded goal of shutting down women’s health care centers and ending access to safe, legal abortion,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU. “Requiring a business arrangement that would decrease women’s access to high quality health care providers doesn’t improve women’s safety. Opponents are waging a stealth war on abortion, and women and families are paying the price.”

Currently in Wisconsin there are only four health centers where a woman can have an abortion. If this law takes effect, one provider in Milwaukee will be forced to close immediately and the remaining three may not be able to absorb the unmet need, which will force abortion later in pregnancy if a woman is able to have one at all.

“We all want to protect women’s health and safety,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “This law won’t do that — in fact, it will do the opposite, which is why we are in court on behalf of the patients who turn to Planned Parenthood health centers for safe, compassionate, respectful care.”

Data, including from the CDC, show that abortion has over a 99 percent safety record. Other outpatient procedures are not subject to the same level of regulation even if they have higher rates of complication.

The plaintiffs in this case already have plans in place for patient safety. Emergency rooms are required to treat any patient, and all Wisconsin abortion clinics already have made arrangements with local hospitals in the extremely rare case that a patient needs hospital care.

Physicians who provide abortion might not be able to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with their quality or credentials. Reasons include the religious affiliation of the hospitals; various hospital bylaw requirements that the physicians cannot satisfy, such as minimum number of hospital admissions per year, which the physicians cannot satisfy because abortion is so safe; and requirements that the physician live within a certain distance of the hospital.

“Our elected officials are following special interests that wish to prevent women from getting the care they need,” said Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “It’s time for politicians to focus on our state’s real challenges, like improving access to equal education and keeping youth out of prisons.”

Women in Wisconsin aren’t the only targets of this strategy. Last week, another federal trial, led by the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, began in Alabama concerning a similar law. Another law in Mississippi — currently blocked by court order — could eliminate the state’s only remaining abortion provider.  In Texas, where a similar law has taken effect, the number of physicians providing safe and legal abortion has been reduced. The most drastic impact is in regions where residents are low-income and in the greatest need for health care. Meanwhile, similar legislation has been introduced in Pennsylvania, is nearing final passage in Oklahoma, and has been sent to Governor Bobby Jindal’s desk in Louisiana.

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