Bloomberg News

Alabama’s Abortion Provider Hospital Law Blocked by U.S. Judge

June 29, 2013

An Alabama law requiring abortion doctors to have staff privileges at local hospitals was temporarily blocked by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson in Montgomery issued a temporary restraining order that bars the state from enforcing the law until at least July 12. The requirement was set to take effect July 1.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit this month, said the measure signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley in April would force three of the state’s five clinics to close, unconstitutionally burdening a woman’s right to an abortion.

“The court finds that it is in the public interest to preserve the status quo and give the court an opportunity to evaluate fully the lawfulness of HB 57 without subjecting the plaintiffs, their patients or the public at large to any of its potential harms,” Thompson said in yesterday’s order, referring to the law by its legislative designation.

“We are disappointed,” Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said in an e-mailed statement, noting that it was only a temporary order. “This is an important law to protect the health and safety of Alabamians, and my office will continue to vigorously defend the law so that it may be implemented as soon as possible.”

Under the law, administrators whose clinics violate the law could face as long as 10 years in prison, according to yesterday’s ruling.

Part of a Kansas abortion law, including a provision involving a 24-hour waiting period, was temporarily blocked by a state judge, the Center for Reproductive rights said yesterday in a statement. The ruling couldn’t be immediately confirmed in court records.

Eight Clinics

The ACLU filed its complaint in Alabama on behalf of Planned Parenthood Southeast Inc., which operates eight health centers in that state, Georgia and Mississippi, and Reproductive Health Services, a licensed abortion provider in Montgomery.

It argued the law threatens the ability of abortion clinics in Alabama’s three biggest cities -- Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham -- to offer that service, leaving just those in Huntsville and Tuscaloosa.

“We’re grateful that the court stepped in to prevent politicians from taking away a woman’s ability to make this personal and private decision,” Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said in a statement. “We will continue to fight to ensure that these decisions can be made by a woman with her family and her doctor, not by politicians sitting in Montgomery.”

Bentley’s Opposition

Bentley’s administration opposed the request for injunctive relief, arguing in a June 25 filing that the plaintiffs delayed challenging the legislation signed on April 9 because they knew they would lose on “an adequately developed record.”

He also said the Huntsville and Tuscaloosa clinics planned to comply with the law.

“Those clinics appear to have had hospital-admitting privileges before there even was an HB 57,” according to the governor’s filing. “Their doctors are not claiming a right to abandon patients when post-abortion complications arise.”

Bentley, a Republican, faulted the plaintiffs for their inability to obtain admitting privileges, telling the court if they can’t it’s because they operate under a business model “inconsistent” with high standards of care.

Planned Parenthood called that argument “specious,” in a reply brief filed yesterday.

The case is Planned Parenthood Southeast Inc. v. Bentley, 13-cv-00405, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Alabama (Montgomery).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in the Chicago federal courthouse at

aharris16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net


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