Alabama abortion law challenge must go to trial, judge rules

Bloomberg NewsMarch 31, 2014 

A dispute over an Alabama law requiring abortion clinic doctors to have hospital admitting privileges must be resolved at a trial, a judge ruled four days after a U.S. appeals court upheld a similar Texas statute.

Planned Parenthood Southeast Inc. sued Alabama last year, contending the law signed by Republican Gov. Robert Bentley would force clinics in the state’s three biggest cities to close because doctors wouldn’t be able to obtain privileges.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson in Montgomery, who heard arguments last month on whether the measure unconstitutionally deprives women of access to the procedure, said Monday he will decide only after hearing trial evidence.

The case is one of several in which states are accused of trying to restrict abortions through laws ostensibly aimed at protecting women’s health.

A federal appeals court in New Orleans on March 27 reversed an Austin, Texas, trial judge’s ruling that the state’s law, which resulted in clinics’ closing, was improper. Wisconsin’s hospital-affiliation rule is the subject of a lawsuit set for trial May 27.

Alabama’s case will be tried without a jury, Joy Patterson, a spokeswoman for state Attorney General Luther Strange, said by email.

Thompson said in his 86-page ruling that there is a genuine question as to whether clinic doctors in Montgomery, Mobile or Birmingham would be able to get local hospital privileges.

The state said the law was passed to protect women’s health and that doctors could get access to practicing at hospitals. Planned Parenthood argued that doctors couldn’t, citing local residency requirements and the religious associations of some institutions.

“This fight is far from over, and it’s a fight we are determined to win,” Chief Executive Officer Staci Fox of Planned Parenthood Southeast said in a statement.

Thompson rejected Planned Parenthood’s claim the law impermissibly delegated to hospitals the licensing power of the state.

“We intend to vigorously defend the law against the remaining claim at trial, state Solicitor General Andrew Brasher said in a statement.

Alabama said the purpose of the law isn’t to impose a substantial obstacle on women seeking abortions.

“If the court finds that the statute was motivated by a purpose of protecting fetal life, than then the state had the unconstitutional purpose of creating a substantial obstacle,” the judge wrote.

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