Federal Judge Issues Restraining Order Against Wisconsin Abortion Law

Judge William Conley

Scott Walker could not sneak his anti-choice law pass the people of Wisconsin and he had even less luck trying to sneak it past the notice of a judge. On Monday, U.S. District Judge William Conley listened to the protests of Planned Parenthood and issued a temporary restraining order against a law for which he said there is no justification.

His 19-page ruling says that “There is a troubling lack of justification for the hospital admitting privileges requirement.”

There is a troubling lack of justification for every anti-choice law passed by every Republican legislature since 2010 and Walker’s law is no exception.

Planned Parenthood argued that Scott Walker’s abortion law violates the Constitution’s due process guarantee and that doctors performing abortions were treated differently than doctors performing other procedures.

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Conley, a Wisconsin native who came on the job in 2010, agreed. He was not kind.

“[T]he State,” he wrote, “must demonstrate that the regulation is reasonably related to ‘the preservation and protection of maternal health’ but it failed to do so.

In response to substantial evidence that the admitting privileges restriction serves no purpose in advancing maternal health, the State argues that, though admittedly rare, there are situations where serious complications can result from a pre-viability abortion. In those circumstances, the Attorney General believes it will be able to offer testimony showing that the requirement for admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the location of the abortion would reduce risks to the patient. Aside from the claimed need for “continuity of care,” counsel was unable to offer any support for this position, which does not bear even superficial scrutiny on the current record.

He also did not fail to notice that, “the majority of patients are at or below the federal poverty line.”

Conley concluded that,

[T]here is a troubling lack of justification for the hospital admitting privileges requirement, which is important because the United States Supreme Court has explained that the State of Wisconsin Case: 3:13-CV-00465-wmc Document #: 21 Filed: 07/08/13 Page 1 of 192bears the burden of proving that a medical requirement is ‘reasonably directed to the preservation of maternal health.’ and “the record to date strongly supports a finding that no medical purpose is served by this requirement.

Republicans claim of course that they are only trying to “help” women by making it nearly impossible for them to get abortions, but Conley wasn’t fooled for a minute, writing that, “The current system already handles efficiently the very low percentage of women seeking abortions with serious complications.”

It turns out, unsurprisingly, that women are in less danger from abortion procedures than they are from live births, with the risk of death registering at “less than 0.7 deaths per 100,000 procedures” whereas “death from fatal anaphylactic shock following use of penicillin in the United States is 2.0 deaths per 100,000 uses.” A woman is 14 times more likely to die during live child birth than during an abortion procedure.

If the Republicans were really trying to help anybody, they would be writing this law to address penicillin injections rather than abortions, and they would tighten up the restrictions on live child births while they were at it.

It is pretty clear from these facts that Planned Parenthood’s complaint that doctors performing abortions were treated differently than doctors performing other procedures.

It is no surprise then that Judge Conley opined that,

Moreover, 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. On the contrary, plaintiffs have submitted compelling evidence…that the requirement provides no medical benefit. There is no barrier to hospital care for an abortion patient who experiences complications based on whether or not the abortion provider has admitting privileges. 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 therefore concluded,

[T]here will almost certainly be irreparable harm to those women who will be foreclosed from having an abortion in the next week either because of the undue burden of travel or the late stage of pregnancy, as well as facing increasing health risks caused by delay. Since the State has failed to date to demonstrate any benefit to maternal health of imposing this restriction, there is no meaningful counterweight recognized by the United States Supreme Court to justify the Act’s immediate enforcement. Given the substantial likelihood of success on the merits and of irreparable harm, the public’s interest is best served by imposing a temporary restraining order on enforcement of the admitting privileges requirement until this court can address its merits on a more complete record.

Planned Parenthood did not challenge the state-mandated rape, or ultrasound requirement portion of the law.

A full preliminary injunction hearing will be held on July 17, 2013. Meanwhile, “defendants are enjoined from enforcing the hospital admitting privileges requirement for abortions performed at PPW’s Appleton-North and Milwaukee-Jackson centers and AMS’s centers until July 18, 2013.”

For the women of Wisconsin, Judge Conley’s ruling is an 11th hour reprieve from the Wisconsin GOP’s repressive, misogynistic, Taliban-like religious regime.

Image from Wisconsin State Journal

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