Alabama just became the latest bright spot in efforts to defend abortion rights against consistent attacks at the state level. On Monday, federal judge declared unconstitutional a 2013 law requiring that abortion providers obtain admitting privileges at area hospitals.
Proponents of the law had argued that it was intended to keep women safe, and that without the requirement, providers can’t ensure that a patient will be moved quickly to the hospital when the need arises. But the judge disagreed, echoing the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ and the American Medical Association’s arguments against the alleged medical basis for such laws. Complications requiring hospitalization occur in just .05 to .3 percent of early-term abortions, the type performed at the Alabama clinics in question. With the safety argument exposed as empty, the judge found that the law serves no purpose other than to outlaw abortion in huge swaths of the state.
According to the decision: “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.” In other words: if this isn’t a sneaky way to ban the procedure, I don’t know what is.
Had it gone into effect, the law would have put access to abortion out of reach for many Alabama women, particularly those in the southern part of the state. Clinics in Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery—Alabama’s three most populous cities—would have been forced to close. In 2012, these clinics performed 40 percent of all legal abortions in the state. According to the decision, it would have been unlikely that providers there could have gotten staff privileges, either because they don’t live within a specific radius of the local hospital, the early-term abortions they provide are too safe to necessitate that they admit a patient for additional care (after all, you have to use the privilege in order to get and maintain it), or because the granting of such privileges is subjective, often made at the whims of hospital administrators.
The ruling comes on the heels of a federal court’s decision last week to continue to block a similar law in Mississippi. If that state’s admitting privileges law is eventually allowed to go into effect, Mississippi’s last abortion clinic will close.