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Alabama’s recent pro-life moves could be in trouble

(Flickr user Christine Szeto)
(Flickr user Christine Szeto)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Legislature’s laws requiring abortion clinics to be held to the same standard as other medical facilities may be in trouble if the  American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) gets its way.

In July the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the state of Alabama’s health officer to keep Tuscaloosa’s only abortion clinic, the West Alabama Women’s Center, Inc, open.

The suit was prompted by the state law, passed in 2013, requiring every physician who performs an abortion at a licensed abortion clinic must have staff privileges at a local hospital. If the clinic didn’t meet this requirement the alternative was for the clinic to enter into a written contract with a local physician who already had privileges to serve as the outside covering physician.

The idea was for clinic doctors to be able to care for their patients in the hospital in cases where there were complications from abortions.

The abortion clinic closed in January after its long time medical doctor, Dr. Louis Payne, who had the required privileges at DCH Regional Medical Center, retired. The clinic hired Dr. William Parker as the new medical director, but Parker was unable to obtain the now mandated privileges.

The reality of this requirement is that not a single ob-gyn physician who had access to admitting privileges would enter into a contract for fear of public association with an abortion clinic. Because of Parker’s inability to meet requirements combined with local physicians not wanting to enter contract, the facility was forced to suspend operations, and the West Alabama Women’s Center, represented by the ACLU, filed suit claiming that this regulation is unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In 2013, the portions of law were found to be unconstitutional by a federal court in cases of three other Alabama abortion clinics.

In early August, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued a temporary restraining order blocking the enforcement of this state requirement that had caused clinic operations to cease at Tuscaloosa’s abortion clinic, finding the plaintiffs would ultimately succeed because of the merit of their claims.

A one-year waiver from these requirements was granted for the Tuscaloosa clinic by State Health Officer Don Williamson. The abortion clinic has since been reopened and now waits on the Department of Public Health’s new regulations that would ensure “the health and safety of patients without creating an undue burden” on abortion rights.

On Oct. 21, the State Committee will meet to consider these new rules and changes but cannot become final until after a public comment period has been conducted.

Thompson has not yet issued a final order in that case, and the temporary restraining order remains in effect.

To read U.S. District Judge Thompson’s opinion please click here.