Last week, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Mississippi's law requiring admitting privileges. If that law had been allowed, it would have closed Mississippi's last existing abortion clinic. The Alabama law would not have had quite so draconian an effect. Judge Thompson noted in his 172-page ruling:
“The evidence compellingly demonstrates that the requirement would have the striking result of closing three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics, clinics which perform only early abortions, long before viability. Indeed, the court is convinced that, if this requirement would not, in the face of all the evidence in the record, constitute an impermissible undue burden, then almost no regulation, short of those imposing an outright prohibition on abortion, would.”Thompson asked that attorneys for the plaintiffs, Planned Parenthood Southeast, and the state see if they can arrive at some compromise over fashioning relief in the case.
He made clear in his ruling how the environment for doctors performing abortions in Alabama and elsewhere in that part of the country is one of fear.
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Although the vast majority of those who oppose abortion do so in nonviolent ways, this court cannot overlook the backdrop to this case: a history of severe violence against abortion providers in Alabama and the surrounding region. [...]The unfortunate climate means that the physicians performing abortions in Alabama usually don't live in the communities where they practice. They travel. That's also the case in Mississippi, where the doctors at the Jackson Women's Health Organization—the state's sole remaining clinic performing abortions—live out of state, and in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where the doctors at the state's only such clinic come each week from Minnesota.
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.
For Alabama and Mississippi, the forced-birthers' plan to close down clinics by mandating medically unnecessary hospital admitting privileges has failed. But that may not be what happens at a second trial on a Texas law, which also mandates admitting privileges. The trial began Monday in Austin.
In addition to the admitting privileges, the Texas law also requires that abortion clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgical center, which is the key complaint of the plaintiffs. (Two other measures in this omnibus forced-birther law aren't being contested in the current case. They bar abortions after 20 weeks gestation and require women getting medication abortions to return four times to their doctors' offices to take the necessary pills.)
A judge overturned the admitting privileges portion of the Texas law in October. But the state immediately appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court, which ultimately ruled the admitting privileges portion of the law is constitutional. The admitting privileges provision has already forced closure of more than half the state's 41 abortion clinics. If the ambulatory surgical center standard meets the test of constitutionality, it could close all but six of the remaining clinics providing abortions in Texas.
The Texas Policy Evaluation Project found the law has already had a profound impact, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley portion of Texas, where there are no longer any clinics performing abortions in this poorer part of the state. The closures mean that the number of reproductive age women in Texas who live more than 50 miles from a clinic providing abortion increased from 816,000 in May 2013 to 1,680,000 by April 2014. If the Ambulatory Surgical Center requirement goes into effect, that number will rise to 1.96 million. The number living more than 100 miles from a clinic providing abortion rose from 417,000 in May 2013 to 1.02 million by April 2014. If the ASC requirement goes into effect this will increase to 1.34 million. Women living 200 miles from a clinic increased from 10,000 in May 2013 to 290,000 by April 2014. If the ASC requirement goes into effect, this will increase to 752,000.
Katie McDonough at Salon notes that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes the law for singling out abortion providers with “regulations that are more stringent for abortion than for other surgical procedures of similar low risk.”
That, of course, makes no never-mind to the forced-birthers. Since they began their campaign to make abortion illegal again starting about five minutes after the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling was issued, they have shown no compunctions about doing whatever it takes to end this mainstay of reproductive rights.