Updated: 07/05/2013 3:55 PM KSTP.com By: Scott Theisen
Photo: MGN Online
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker quietly signed a contentious Republican bill Friday that would require women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound and ban doctors who lack admitting privileges at nearby hospitals from performing the procedures.
Opponents contend legislators shouldn't force women to undergo any medical procedure and the bill will force two abortion clinics where providers lack admitting privileges to shut their doors. The law takes effect Monday. Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit within hours of the signing alleging the bill is unconstitutional and asking for a temporary restraining order blocking the measure.
"What the Legislature has done is to set up a system where the ability to provide abortions is contingent on the decision of a private institution and that's unconstitutional," Planned Parenthood's attorney, Lester Pines, said in an interview.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice, which defends state laws, said agency attorneys would review the lawsuit and respond in court.
The bill is part of a broad GOP push to dramatically curtail abortions nationally.
North Dakota's governor, Republican Jack Dalrymple, signed a law this spring that outlaws abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, making North Dakota the most restrictive state in the nation to get an abortion. The state's lone abortion clinic has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the law.
Republicans in Arkansas this spring passed a law that bans most abortions after 12 weeks. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Center for Reproductive Rights. A federal judge has temporarily blocked that law. A trial has been tentatively scheduled for next year.
Alabama passed a law similar to the Wisconsin bill in April requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit contending the law would shut down three clinics because doctors at the clinics haven't been able to get admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. A federal judge temporarily blocked the law in June. Another federal judge has temporarily blocked Mississippi officials from closing down that state's only abortion clinic because providers there lack admitting privileges.
Under the new Wisconsin law, any woman seeking an abortion would have to get an ultrasound. The technician would have to point out the fetus' visible organs and external features. Abortion providers would have to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles to perform the procedures.
Supporters argue ultrasounds will help the woman bond with the fetus and convince her to save it. The admitting privileges requirement ensures a woman who suffers an abortion-related complication has an advocate who can explain what happened when she reaches a hospital, they say.
Opponents maintain the law authorizes the government to dictate medical procedures. They've blasted the admitting privileges as ridiculous, saying an ambulance would take an ailing woman to the nearest hospital regardless of whether the abortion provider has admitting privileges.
Walker, a Republican, didn't sign the bill in public, instead sending out a statement early Friday afternoon saying the bill was now law.
"This bill improves a woman's ability to make an informed choice that will protect her physical and mental health now and in the future," the statement said.
The fight now shifts to court, just as it has in other states.
Planned Parenthood and the ACLU allege the admitting privileges will force a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Appleton to close as well as the Affiliated Medical Services abortion clinic in Milwaukee to close. The physicians in both clinics lack local admitting privileges and don't have time to secure any before the law takes effect, the lawsuit alleges.
Hospitals often grant privileges only to physicians who guarantee a minimum number of annual referrals, a requirement the abortion providers can't meet because abortion problems that require hospitalization are rare, according to the lawsuit. And some hospitals won't grant admitting privileges to abortion providers out of political, ideological or religious reasons, the lawsuit added.
Without a clinic in Appleton northern Wisconsin women will have to travel hundreds of miles to obtain abortions at Planned Parenthood's remaining clinics in Madison and Milwaukee, the lawsuit said.
The case fell to U.S. District Judge William Conley. It was unclear whether he would take any action before Monday.
Barbara Lyons, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, praised Walker for following through on promises to sign the bill. She said the law is on solid legal ground, noting eight other states have similar admitting privileges requirements for abortion privileges.
"It's no surprise they'll be challenging," she said of Planned Parenthood. "They see their livelihood threatened, their income threatened. We don't think in the long run they'll be successful."
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