A Federal Judge Rules in Support of a Woman’s Right to Choose in Alabama.

by Emma Tilden

Good news is rolling in on the abortion front from, of all places, Birmingham, Alabama!  On Monday, a federal judge ruled that a new Alabama law—which would restrict doctors who perform abortions and force several women’s clinics to shut down—placed unconstitutional restrictions on a woman’s right to choose. 

The law, which would require all doctors who perform abortions in Alabama to have what are called “admitting privileges,” is opposed by, “major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology,” said Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama. 

Admitting privileges allow a doctor to admit a patient to a nearby (within 30 miles) hospital, but only if he/she/ze is a member of that hospital’s medical staff.  

Now, there is some logic behind required admitting privileges.  If a medical emergency arises in the process of a woman getting an abortion at a women’s health clinic, it is important that she be admitted to a nearby hospital as soon as possible.  That is absolutely essential. 

But it is also completely unrelated to admitting privileges.  In an emergency, hospitals are required to provide care for anyone in need—regardless of whether they are insured or whether their health concerns arose in the process of their getting an abortion. 

A 1986 federal law called the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act, which requires a hospital to do everything in its power to return a patient to stable condition regardless of his/her/zir ability to pay, has seen to that.  

However, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in 2011 that would have allowed hospitals to turn away emergency room patients in need of life-saving abortions or other abortion-related medical help, such as aid in a botched abortion.  The bill, called the “Let them Die” bill by its opponents, did not pass the Senate—thank goodness!

Of course, it should be easy for Alabama doctors to gain admitting privileges, making this a moot point, right?  Wrong.  Several of the doctors currently offering abortions live out of state, and thus cannot admit patients to local hospitals.  And local doctors are unlikely to start offering abortions, given the area’s history of violence—including bombings, shootings, and arson—against clinics and their doctors.  (District Judge Myron Thompson called these acts “detrimental professional consequences.”  I would put it a bit more strongly.  They are terrorist acts.)  

District Judge Myron Thompson

The law would force a whopping three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics to close.  (Clinics located, I might add, in the state’s three largest cities, and accessible to their larger populations.)  “The resulting unavailability of abortion in these three cities would impose significant obstacles, burdens and costs for women across Alabama,” wrote Judge Thompson. 

Thompson also wrote that the legitimate medical reasoning offered for the law was “weak” since serious complications are less likely to arise in an early-term abortion than from something as common as penicillin injection. 

Similar laws dealing with admitting privileges have been brought to the table in Mississippi, Kansas and Wisconsin (where they were blocked by federal courts) and in Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Utah (where they are now in effect). 

It’s refreshing to hear about a public figure taking a stand for pro-choice, especially after the media’s extensive coverage of “pro-life” folks lately. Here and now—the first step in taking back a woman’s right to choose!  

Images courtesy of bigstory.ap.org, kut.org, and madvertiserblogs.com.  

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