Abortion Dynamics in Sharp Focus as Judge Rules against Wisconsin Law

By Jonsson, Patrik | The Christian Science Monitor, March 21, 2015 | Go to article overview

Abortion Dynamics in Sharp Focus as Judge Rules against Wisconsin Law


Jonsson, Patrik, The Christian Science Monitor


A federal judge in Wisconsin on Friday ruled that the state's effort to beef up patient safety at abortion clinics is unconstitutional because of its unequal impact on women. The ruling is a poignant rebuff to a potent antiabortion strategy that has already begun to shutter abortion clinics in the South and Midwest.

The offending law, which was signed by Gov. Scott Walker in 2013, required Wisconsin's four abortion clinics to get admitting privileges at local hospitals. But that requirement proved unworkable for two clinics, including one in Milwaukee, where hospitals didn't want to get involved in the nation's often-heated and protest-filled abortion debate.

US District Judge William Conley, who had stayed the law last year as he deliberated its constitutionality, conceded that safety is a legitimate concern when it comes to abortion clinics, but ultimately ruled that the law's remedy far exceeded any problem since so few abortions involved complications.

"In particular, the State has failed to meet its burden of demonstrating through credible evidence a link between the admitting privileges requirement and a legitimate health interest," Judge Conley wrote in a 92-page ruling.

Federal judges have either put on hold or struck down similar laws in Alabama and Mississippi, although 14 states now have variations of the law on the books. In Texas, similar legislation has drastically reduced the number of abortion providers, and look- alike laws are set to take effect in Louisiana on Sept. 1 and Oklahoma on Nov. 1.

The moves have become a flashpoint in a long-running abortion rights debate in the US, particularly because of how successful they have been in reducing access to the procedure. It also comes ahead of a looming abortion fight in the 2016 presidential debate, where a Republican winner could change the make-up of the US Supreme Court to the point where the ultimate abortion rights ruling, Roe v. Wade, could once again be up for debate.

Admitting laws "are part of a wave of state bills ... driven by a conservative shift ... as well as a change in strategy on that part of antiabortion activists" that focuses on reducing access to abortion in order to curb its use, the Washington Post's Sandhya Somashekhar wrote last year.

The laws were boosted by the 2013 murder trial of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell after investigators found appalling conditions at his clinic. …

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