Judge to rule on blocking new Wis. abortion law

SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A federal judge said in a hastily scheduled hearing Monday afternoon that he will rule by Tuesday morning on a request to temporarily block enforcement of a new Wisconsin law that bans doctors who lack admitting privileges at nearby hospitals from performing abortions.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Affiliated Medical Services filed a lawsuit Friday alleging that the requirement would unconstitutionally restrict the availability of abortions in the state, violates the constitution's due process guarantee and unconstitutionally treats doctors who perform abortions differently from those who perform other procedures.

The bill was introduced in the Legislature on June 4, passed nine days later and signed into law Friday by Gov. Scott Walker. It took effect Monday. The law also requires women to obtain an ultrasound before getting an abortion, but that provision is not being challenged.

If the law isn't put on hold, dozens of women with abortions scheduled in the coming week would have to cancel their appointments, attorneys told U.S. District Judge William Conley on Monday. Those appointments are at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Appleton and the Affiliated Medical Services clinic in Milwaukee, where doctors performing abortions do not have admitting privileges to hospitals within 30 miles as the new law requires, attorneys said.

Both of those clinics would close under the law, meaning abortions would not be available in Wisconsin north of Madison, the lawsuit says, and after the 19th week of pregnancy, abortions would not be available anywhere in the state.

Planned Parenthood attorney Lester Pines urged Conley to decide by the close of business on Monday so patients who had abortions scheduled Tuesday would know whether those could proceed. Thirty women have appointments in Appleton on Tuesday, and the Milwaukee clinic has dozens scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, attorneys told the judge.

It would be "virtually impossible, if not impossible" to accommodate all of those women with appointments at two clinics in Madison and Milwaukee where doctors performing abortions meet the requirements of the new law, Pines said.

Department of Justice spokeswoman Dan Brueck declined comment following the hearing.

Conley had not ruled by 5 p.m. Monday. He didn't specify when he would rule, only that it would be Tuesday morning at the latest.

Conley has already scheduled a July 17 hearing where more evidence will be presented on the request for a temporary restraining order, which would put the law on hold while the case challenging its constitutionality proceeded. Pines wanted the judge to put the law on hold immediately, pending the July 17 hearing.

Supporters of the law argue ultrasounds will help the woman bond with the fetus and convince her to save it. The admitting privileges requirement ensures a woman who suffers an abortion-related complication has an advocate who can explain what happened when she reaches a hospital, supporters say.

But opponents contend the true goal was to make it more difficult to obtain abortions in Wisconsin.

Conley said during Monday's roughly hour-long hearing that the main issue was whether the admitting privileges requirement is directed at protecting the health of the mother or whether it deters a woman's ability to get an abortion.

Assistant Attorney General Dan Lennington defended the admission requirement, saying doctors who perform abortions at a clinic are the best ones to treat women after they've been admitted to the hospital if a problem arises. Lennington said he would present expert testimony about that on July 17.

Pines countered that in an emergency, the standard practice would be for a specialist — not the doctor performing the abortion — to treat the patient. Admitting privileges for an outpatient doctor aren't required for a patient to get the highest level care in a hospital, Pines said.

Lennington said it would not be a burden for women in northern Wisconsin who would have gone to Appleton to instead drive farther to have the procedure done in Minneapolis or Milwaukee.

"You haven't driven those roads if you don't think it's a burden," Conley said.

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