By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A federal judge expressed concerns Friday that a Wisconsin law requiring abortion providers to get hospital admitting privileges is inflexible.
U.S. District Judge William Conley made the remarks as he wrapped up a week-long bench trial to gather information in a lawsuit challenging the law. Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services sued the state, arguing that the requirement will force AMS’s Milwaukee clinic to close because its doctors can’t get admitting privileges.
The organizations contend the closure would unconstitutionally restrict access to abortion in Wisconsin. State attorneys counter that the requirement will ensure better patient care.
Conley said he was troubled that the law required providers to get privileges within three days of its enactment. He went on to say the law could dampen a clinic’s efforts to recruit new providers.
He has yet to rule on the lawsuit, but he has blocked the law from taking effect while he weighs the issues.
Closure of a Milwaukee abortion clinic would force some women to travel more than 150 additional miles for the procedure and could prompt them to abandon the idea, a former researcher testified Friday in federal court.
Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas have similar laws. Abortion clinics in Alabama have filed a similar lawsuit, and that proceeding is set to resume next week.
Stanley Henshaw, a former researcher at the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research organization, testified earlier Friday in the Wisconsin trial that AMS is the state’s only clinic that performs abortions beyond 19 weeks of pregnancy. If it closes, Milwaukee women seeking abortions beyond that point in their pregnancies would have to travel at least 85 miles away to a clinic in Chicago, he said.
He also noted that many poor women can’t afford that trip and might give up on having an abortion.
Travel also can result in delays getting appointments and could push abortions later into pregnancies when women may be more uncomfortable getting them and decide not to go through with it, he added.
Planned Parenthood has said that AMS’ closure would result in more patients at its clinics. Henshaw backed the organization up by saying he expected longer delays at facilities where women are already waiting three to four weeks for appointments.
Attorneys for the state have said admitting privileges help ensure that women are not abandoned by doctors if they develop complications and must go to a hospital. They also say AMS’ doctors have not tried hard enough to get the privileges in Milwaukee.
On Thursday, Conley told one abortion doctor to renew his efforts to obtain hospital admitting privileges, saying that could help resolve the lawsuit without his action.