ACLU and Planned Parenthood in Court to Protect Safe and Legal Abortion in Alabama

Trial Begins Monday in Case Challenging Dangerous Restrictions that Would Force All but Two Health Centers in the State to Stop Providing Abortions

May 16, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org 

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A federal court trial begins Monday in a lawsuit seeking to permanently block a harmful Alabama law signed in 2013. This law would force three of the five licensed health centers providing abortion in the state to stop doing so, by requiring their doctors to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals.

Leading national medical groups, such as the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, oppose laws like these because they do little for patient safety. In fact, these laws put women at risk because they force quality health care providers to close. Even the top public health official in Alabama testified that this law would not make women safer and urged the legislature not to pass it.

"We all want to protect women’s health and safety," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "This law won’t do that — in fact; it will do the opposite, which is why we are in court on behalf of the patients who turn to Planned Parenthood health centers for safe, compassionate, respectful care."

Data, including from the CDC, shows that abortion has over a 99 percent safety record. Other outpatient procedures are not subject to the same level of regulation, even if they have higher rates of complication.

"Let me be clear: This law was designed by politicians, not doctors, with the single-minded goal of shutting down women’s health care centers and ending access to safe, legal abortion," said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU. "Opponents are waging a stealth war on abortion with these medically unnecessary regulations, and women and families are paying the price."

The plaintiffs in this case already have plans in place for patient safety. Regulations in Alabama require providers of safe and legal abortion to maintain contracts with a backup physician that has hospital staff privileges. These physicians are available to provide care for complications, in the rare event that they occur after an abortion, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Even before the enactment of this law, abortion providers in Alabama have had to become specifically licensed by the Alabama Department of Public Health and are subject to extensive regulation related to personnel, physician qualifications, record keeping, minimum doorway sizes and room sizes, interior finishes and flooring material, and emergency exits.

"Think about it," Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said. "Patient health and safety is our number one priority at Planned Parenthood. Patient care is making sure women have safe, compassionate, respectful care as well as client education, support, and counseling. The admitting privileges law does nothing to make women safer. Instead, it harms them.”"

Physicians who provide abortion in Alabama cannot obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with their quality or credentials. The reasons include: the religious affiliation of the hospitals as well as various hospital bylaw requirements that the physicians cannot satisfy, such as minimum number of hospital admissions per year (which the physicians cannot satisfy because abortion is so safe), and requirements that the physician live within a certain distance of the hospital. 

The intent of Alabama’s law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges has been repeatedly made clear in statements from legislators. State Representative Mac McCutcheon said plainly at a rally that the Alabama Legislature would soon pass bills “to shut down these [abortion] clinics."

And women in Alabama aren’t the only targets of this strategy. Later this month, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU will be in a federal court in Madison for a trial on a similar Wisconsin law.  A similar law in Mississippi — currently blocked by court order — could eliminate the state’s only remaining abortion provider.  In Texas, where a similar law has taken effect, the number of physicians providing safe and legal abortion has been reduced, and drastically so in regions where residents are low-income and in the greatest need for health care.  Meanwhile, similar legislation has been introduced in Pennsylvania, has passed both chambers in Louisiana, and is nearing Governor Mary Fallin’s desk in Oklahoma.

"Our elected officials are wasting taxpayer resources to prevent women from getting the care they need," said Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. "Politicians need to stop trying to put women at risk and focus on Alabama’s real problems, like fixing our schools and creating jobs."

The plaintiffs in this case are Planned Parenthood Southeast and Reproductive Health Services.  They are represented by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Alabama, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Montgomery firm Sabel & Sabel.  

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