Attorney General’s office argues against restraining order on abortion law

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A capitol police officer asks anti-abortion protesters to no interfere with a Planned Parenthood rally against abortion related bills on the steps of the Alabama State House in Montgomery on Tuesday, April 2, 2013.(Mickey Welsh/Montgomery Advertiser)

A capitol police officer asks anti-abortion protesters to no interfere with a Planned Parenthood rally against abortion related bills on the steps of the Alabama State House in Montgomery on Tuesday, April 2, 2013.(Mickey Welsh/Montgomery Advertiser)

The Attorney General’s office is urging a federal court to deny a request for an temporary restraining order against a new abortion law, saying it would delay changes “the Legislature has deemed necessary to promote women’s safety.”

In a brief filed Tuesday in response to a suit brought by Planned Parenthood Southeast and a Montgomery clinic that provides abortion services, argues the plaintiffs waited too long to justify a restraining order, while accusing them of bringing in physicians from outside their areas and running “fly-by-night” operations.

“The plaintiffs have not explained how far away these doctors reside from the clinics or how often they make themselves available to patients,” said the filing. “It is incumbent on the plaintiffs to provide fuller details about precisely how their businesses work in this regard.”

Known as HB 57, the law requires abortion clinics to hire physicians with admitting privileges at local hospitals, and also requires them to be built up to the standards of ambulatory clinics. The law also makes it a felony for anyone but a physician to administer an abortion-inducing drug to a patient. Supporters say it will ensure patients’ safety. The plaintiffs, representing three of the state’s five abortion clinics, say the measures in the law are unnecessary and that HB 57 is aimed at shutting them down.

The suit is specifically challenging the physician requirement; plaintiffs have said they are waiting to see what regulations the Alabama Department of Health developments on the ambulatory clinic section.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson has set an argument on the motion for a restraining order for 3 p.m. Thursday. If Thompson grants the restraining order, the state would be blocked from enforcing the law until a decision was made on a preliminary injunction. The law is scheduled to go into effect on July 1.

Attempts to reach Planned Parenthood Southeast Wednesday were unsuccessful. Wayne Sabel, a Montgomery attorney representing the plaintiffs, said Wednesday the state’s timing complaints were “frivolous” and dismissed the assertion that the law was designed for women’s safety.

“Some women die because they’re denied access to safe and legal abortion,” he said.

The law is similar to one passed in Mississippi in 2012 that could shut down that state’s single abortion provider; the Missisippi law has been challenged in federal court. The plaintiffs in the Alabama case argue the physician requirement is medically unnecessary, citing the relatively low number of complications from abortions, and say the requirement is aimed at shutting down the state’s abortion clinics.

“By making plaintiffs’ clinic licenses contingent on their physicians obtaining staff privileges at local hospitals, Alabama has unconstitutionally delegated standardless and unreviewable licensing authority to private parties — the hospitals — in violation of plaintiffs’ due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment,” the suit says.

Abortion rights supporters have have also argued the admitting privileges requirement assumes a doctor at a clinic would be qualified to provide a potentially different set of services at a hospital. In its brief, the state argued that was wrong.

“As a matter of common sense, any patient would prefer a doctor who will commit to follow her to the hospital, in the event of an emergency, over one who will leave her at the door,” the brief says.

The brief also accuses the plaintiffs of attempting to “delay a transition to a more patient-focused approach.”

“While Roe v. Wade recognized a woman’s right to abortion, it did not create a corresponding right of clinics to resist the sort of change that HB 57 entails,” the brief says.

– posted by Brian Lyman

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