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Judge Niess clarifies medical abortion law (UPDATE)

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Dane County circuit court judge ruled Thursday that doctors do not have to be present when a woman takes drugs prescribed for a medical abortion, a decision that allows the practice to continue in Wisconsin.

Both abortion provider Planned Parenthood and the state Department of Justice had agreed on how the law ought to be interpreted, and Judge Richard Niess concurred. The law had been on hold since April 2013 while the case, which began in federal court but was moved to state court because of jurisdictional issues, was pending.

Niess said in his ruling that doctors have to be present when giving the drug to a woman, but they do not have to be there when the woman actually ingests the pill.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the law in 2012 and Gov. Scott Walker, an abortion opponent, signed it into law.

The law mandates that women having nonsurgical abortions visit the same doctor three times and that the doctor must ensure the woman is having the procedure voluntarily and without coercion. Failure to follow those requirements could result in felony charges against the doctor.

The law bars Internet consultations, a practice used in other states but not Wisconsin.

The law does not affect emergency contraception, known as the morning-after pill.

Planned Parenthood initially stopped medical abortions at its clinics in Madison, Milwaukee and the Appleton area due to confusion over whether a doctor could be subject to criminal penalties if he or she is not present when the patient ingests the pill.

Those resumed when the law was put on hold last year and will continue, Planned Parenthood’s attorney Lester Pines said.

“Planned Parenthood doctors are following the law,” Pines said.

Teri Huyck, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, called the ruling a “victory for women and their ability to decide which medical procedure is best for their own health and circumstances.”

“The decision recognizes that medical professionals should be trusted to determine the safest and best medical care for their patients,” she said.

Department of Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck said the DOJ is glad the judge agreed with its interpretation of the law, but “we’re still reviewing the details of his decision.”

A separate lawsuit in federal court, also brought by Planned Parenthood, challenges a different state law requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The judge put that law on hold pending his ruling in a trial that ended in May.

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