Montgomery, Ala. • A federal judge said Monday he intends to rule by the end of July on whether Alabama can enforce a new law requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have approval to admit patients to nearby hospitals.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson wrapped up a three-week trial Monday in Montgomery. He has put enforcement of the law on hold until he rules.
In closing arguments, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas said the law will close three of five of the state’s abortion clinics because they use out-of-state doctors who can’t get admitting privileges.
She said eight other states now have laws similar to Alabama. "These laws are coming state by state and they are closing down clinics," she said.
Alabama’s solicitor general, Andrew Brasher, said the traveling doctors used by the clinics haven’t tried to get admitting privileges and the clinics haven’t tried to recruit abortion doctors to move to Alabama, where it would be easier to get the privileges.
He also said clinics haven’t increased their payments to doctors of $70 to $80 per procedure to try to make recruiting easier.
Kobli-Molinas said pay is not the issue. She said the bombing of a Birmingham abortion clinic in 1998, plus constant picketing and threats, make abortion doctors leery of moving to Alabama.
Both sides in the Alabama case predict an appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, no matter how Thompson rules.
Alabama has five licensed abortion clinics in Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile. The Huntsville and Tuscaloosa clinics use local doctors with hospital admitting privileges. The Montgomery clinic operated by Reproductive Health Services and the Birmingham and Mobile clinics operated by Planned Parenthood Southeast use traveling doctors, mostly from Georgia. They are challenging the law in court with the help of the ACLU.
The Birmingham clinic of Planned Parenthood Southeast ceased performing abortions in January after firing two staff members for selling an abortion medication to a person in the clinic’s parking lot. Kolbi-Molinas said it hopes to reopen soon.
The Legislature’s Republican majority passed the abortion law in 2013. Brasher said the Legislature approved the law after two clinics were closed for problems responding to patients’ needs after surgery.
"The expressed goal of this legislation was to raise the standards of care in abortion clinics," he said.
The Alabama Department of Public Health reports the two clinics not threatened by the law are the state’s largest, with the Tuscaloosa clinic performing 3,503 abortions in 2012 and the Huntsville clinic 1,451. The department reports the Birmingham clinic recorded 1,396 abortions in 2012, the Mobile clinic 1,275, and the Montgomery clinic 978. Clinics are also available near the state line in Columbus, Georgia, and Pensacola, Florida.
States with laws similar to Alabama’s are Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin. Texas has the only law that has been reviewed by a federal appeals court and put into effect.
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