A federal judge has blocked new Wisconsin abortion restrictions that opponents contend would inconvenience poor women and force many abortion clinics to close.
U.S. District Judge William M. Conley issued a temporary restraining order against Act 37 pending a July 17 hearing. The legislation, signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker days ago, sets up another showdown for antiabortion activists, whose recent push for restrictive regulations in legislatures around the country have met resistance from protesters and judges.
Act 37 requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within a 30-mile radius. The law also requires providers to display an ultrasound of the fetus for the woman to view, but does not force her to look. Additionally, the law adds a civil penalty allowing fathers and grandparents of aborted fetuses to sue abortion providers for emotional distress if providers break the abortion law.
Abortion providers filed suit, arguing the admitting-privileges rule would dramatically reduce abortions at some clinics and shut down others altogether.
In siding with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Affiliated Medical Services, Conley wrote that there was a "troubling lack of justification" on why the law required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.
"The record to date strongly supports a finding that no medical purpose is served by this requirement," Conley wrote in the temporary restraining order.
The judge cited a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania vs. Casey, requiring that abortion regulations not place an "undue burden" on women, including "substantial obstacles" that would make abortions more difficult.
Conley noted that one Planned Parenthood clinic in Appleton had no physicians with admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, as well as an Affiliated Medical Center clinic in Milwaukee that performs 3,000 abortions a year.
Citing the burden of travel on poor women, Conley added, "If the act's admitting privileges requirement is enforced, there will be no abortion providers in the state of Wisconsin north of Madison and Milwaukee."
"This court's review of the limited legislative history of the act does not reveal any medical expert speaking in favor of the act or otherwise articulating a legitimate medical reason for the admitting privileges requirement," the judge wrote.
"Based on this record, the court finds that state is unlikely to meet its burden of demonstrating that the admitting privileges requirement is reasonably related to promoting the health of women seeking abortions," Conley added.
The bill passed the state Senate 17 to 15, and the Assembly 56 to 39. Republicans control both chambers.
[For the record, 6:53 p.m. July 9: An earlier version of this post said Wisconsin’s new abortion law forces women to view an ultrasound of the fetus. Actually, the law requires providers to “display the ultrasound images so that the pregnant woman may view them,” but does not require her to look. The earlier post also said the law permits fathers and grandparents of aborted fetuses to sue abortion providers for emotional distress even if they had consented to the abortion in writing. Actually, the law states that they can’t sue unless the provider violated the abortion law, and that a contract would not be a defense in court.]