Wisconsin Tries to Follow Texas in Reviving an Abortion Law
By Andrew Harris - Dec 3, 2013 12:00 AM ET
One month after Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott won a U.S. appeals court ruling overriding a decision to block abortion restrictions in his state, Wisconsin’s top lawyer is aiming for a similar result.
Both states have laws requiring doctors who perform abortions to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (48 kilometers) of their clinic. Advocates argue the provision protects women’s health. Opponents say it’s medically unnecessary and would force facilities to close, burdening a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion.
The office of Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, today will ask an appellate panel to overturn U.S. District Judge William M. Conley’s Aug. 2 decision blocking that state’s law pending a trial on the merits of a challenge by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.
“Act 37 does not create an undue burden on abortion-seeking women,” Van Hollen said, referencing the 2013 law by its legislative name in Sept. 16 filing with U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago. “Although Act 37 may result in the closure of one or two clinics in Wisconsin, it will not have the effect of depriving a significant number of women in Wisconsin of their choice to have an abortion.”
Legal battles over almost identical 30-mile rules are under way in at least three other states.
Mississippi has appealed a ruling that would have closed the state’s only abortion clinic this year. An Alabama law was provisionally blocked and argument over a permanent injunction is set for Feb. 7. A North Dakota state court challenge is scheduled for trial on Feb. 11.
Texas’s law was blocked after a trial on the merits by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel on Oct. 28. Three days later, Abbott, a Republican, won a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans allowing his state to enforce the law while it appeals the trial outcome.
On Nov. 20, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that appellate order, prompting at least a dozen clinics to close.
There are four elective-abortion clinics in Wisconsin. Three of them, in Madison, Milwaukee and Appleton, are Planned Parenthood facilities, and the fourth is run by Affiliated Medical Services in Milwaukee, according to the state.
Enforcement of Act 37 will force the Appleton facility to close and reduce service at one of the Milwaukee clinics, according to the plaintiffs.
Punishment for doctors who violate Wisconsin’s law includes fines of as much as $10,000 and possible license revocation.
In ordering the law blocked, Conley said there would “almost certainly be irreparable harm” to women unable to obtain an abortion because they would have to travel farther for the procedure.
“Defendants are not likely to succeed in demonstrating that the admitting privileges requirement is reasonably related to maternal health,” Conley said.
The public interest isn’t served by allowing an unconstitutional law to take effect, attorneys for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin said in an Oct. 16 appeals court filing.
“Ensuring continued access to constitutionally protected health care services is undoubtedly in the public interest,” they said.
The lower court case is Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin Inc. v. Van Hollen, 3:13-cv-00465, U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin (Madison). The appellate case is Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin Inc. v. Van Hollen, 13-2726, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Chicago).
To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in federal court in Chicago at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at firstname.lastname@example.org