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Federal Judge Rules Alabama’s Version of Anti-Women’s Health Law Unconstitutional

The war on the reproductive rights of Texas women heads to federal court
ILLUSTRATION BY JASON STOUT

On Monday, Federal Court Judge Myron Thomas ruled Alabama’s sham women’s health law, AL HB27, is unconstitutional.

Because the significant obstacles imposed by the staff-privileges requirement are not warranted by the justifications for the requirement, the court finds that the staff-privileges requirement would have the effect of imposing a substantial obstacle for women who would seek abortions in Alabama. The law would therefore impose an undue burden on their constitutional right to an abortion.

Had the law been upheld, three of the State’s five remaining women’s reproductive health clinics would have been forced to close. The law used the Republican tactic du jure, which requires doctors who provide abortions to have medically unnecessary hospital admission privileges.\

Moreover, in Alabama’s case, the privileges requirement amounts to a ban on women’s constitutional right to access to abortions.  The doctors for three of the five clinics live out of state and would therefore not be eligible for admission privileges in Alabama hospitals. Conversely, doctors within Alabama are unlikely to step forward to provide women with this medical service because of the hostile political climate.  Some hospitals won’t give privileges to doctors who provide abortions on “strongly held” religious or other grounds creates a disincentive for local doctors to provide abortions. Finally, doctors who provide abortions are likely to admit too few patients to the hospital to qualify for admission privileges.

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The court considered the hostile political climate for women seeking abortions and the people who provide them. It is worth re-stating some of the Court’s observations.

After outlining a history of violence in which “pro-life” advocates killed and doctors and staff, set clinics on fired and bombed them, the Court described the consequences of a violent history and a current political hostility to women’s constitutional right to access to abortions.

The effect that this climate of violence, harassment, and hostility has on abortion providers in Alabama was palpable at the trial in this case. In their testimony, discussed at length below, the doctors described their daily fears for their professional livelihoods as well as their personal safety. One of the physicians described being followed and threatened by abortion opponents, and fearing for herself, her spouse, and her children every day that she goes to work in Alabama. Indeed, that fear was driven home to this court even in the conduct of the trial itself: in order to protect their identities, the doctors were referred to by pseudonyms throughout the case and would testify in open court only from behind a black curtain.

It’s a story all too familiar to doctors in red states.  Some states, like Louisiana provide anti-women extremists with the personal information of doctors who provide abortions.

It is bound to get worse since the Supreme Court’s June rulings on McMullen v. Coakley and Hobby Lobby.

Last week, the Fifth Circuit struck down a similar law that would have closed the doors of Mississippi’s last remaining abortion clinic.

The Fifth Circuit’s ruling is particularly significant because this court previously upheld a similar law in Texas.  So what made the difference?

There is reason to believe that when the Fifth Circuit upheld the Texas law, for whatever reason, the Court didn’t accept that requiring doctors to have hospital privileges would not result in mass closings of abortion clinics to the point that women must travel hundreds of miles to get a constitutionally protected medical procedure.

However, since that ruling many Texas abortion clinics were forced to shut their doors as a direct result of the Texas law.  A New York Times article gives some disturbing numbers.

In 2011, 44 facilities in Texas provided abortions.  As of March 2014, that number dropped to 24.  That number is expected to drop to six clinics.

Even if the Court wanted to pretend that its ruling on the Texas law would not create an undue burden to women’s constitutional right to an abortion, the factual realities of the ruling’s consequences are impossible to ignore.

One can only imagine the outcry if Texas only had six places that gun culture fanatics could buy their guns and bullets.  No doubt, they could claim it’s an undue burden to their second amendment rights.

Placing an undue burden on a woman’s constitutionally protected right to have access to safe abortions is as much about the Republican Party’s hostility toward the U.S. constitution when contradicts their extreme ideology, as it is about their efforts to impose their anti-woman ideology on America.

Image via Austin Chronicle

 

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