MADISON, Wis. — A federal judge on Friday extended his hold on a portion of a new Wisconsin law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, issuing an injunction blocking the mandate for another four months.
U.S. District Judge William Conley's order stems from a lawsuit Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services filed in July. The organizations say the law would force a Planned Parenthood clinic in Appleton and an AMS clinic in Milwaukee to close because abortion providers at both facilities lack admitting privileges.
Conley issued a temporary hold on the provisions on July 8. The organizations asked him to issue a preliminary injunction that would block the requirement through a trial set to begin Nov. 25.
State attorneys defending the law could ask the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to stay the injunction. A spokeswoman for the state Justice Department said in an email that agency lawyers are reviewing Conley's order and considering their "next step." She did not elaborate. As the case stands now the two clinics can remain open at least until Conley issues a final ruling after the trial.
The judge justified the injunction by finding state attorneys aren't likely to prove the admitting privileges requirement is reasonably related to a woman's health and the organizations probably can show the mandate poses a substantial obstacle to obtaining abortions.
"Given the substantial likelihood of success on the merits and of irreparable harm, the public's interest is best serviced by imposing a preliminary injunction on enforcement of the admitting privileges requirement until this court can address its merits after trial," Conley wrote.
Lester Pines, one of the organizations' attorneys, said he was pleased with the injunction.
"The judge has evaluated it and said in no uncertain terms there's no medical basis for this requirement," Pines said. "What you take from that is the purpose ... is to put barriers in the way of women getting abortions."
Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed the GOP-authored law on July 5, making Wisconsin one of several states where hospital admitting privileges are required for abortion providers. A similar mandate was included in sweeping legislation that Texas lawmakers approved in July after weeks of protests. The only abortion clinic still operating in Mississippi is fighting in federal court to stay open after a 2012 state law imposed admitting privilege requirements on it.
Planned Parenthood and AMS filed their lawsuit the day Walker signed the bill. The groups argued women would have to travel hundreds of miles farther to obtain abortions at Planned Parenthood facilities in Madison and Milwaukee, where providers have admitting privileges. They also say the law unconstitutionally restricts the availability of abortions in Wisconsin, violates the U.S. Constitution's due process guarantee and unconstitutionally treats abortion providers different than other doctors.
They've also argued that losing the Appleton Planned Parenthood clinic and the AMS facility would create scheduling delays at the state's remaining clinics as they cope with more demand. They contend, too, that closing the AMS clinic would effectively end abortions after 19 weeks in Wisconsin because no other facility offers them after that point.
DOJ attorneys defending the law have countered the requirement is meant to ensure continuity of care if a woman develops complications following an abortion. They maintain driving longer distances to obtain an abortion from a provider with admitting privileges isn't an undue burden and providers at the Appleton and AMS Milwaukee clinics should apply for privileges. The organizations' attorneys counter the application process can take months.
But Conley wrote in his order Friday that DOJ has so far failed to prove quality of care is linked to admitting privileges.
He went on to say women would have to travel further for abortions if the Appleton and Milwaukee clinics closed, forcing them to pay more for gas and creating more stress and worry. With the state short two clinics women would face longer waits at the remaining facilities, he said. More women might consider unregulated, illegal abortions as an option, he added.
Providers at the Appleton and AMS clinics will probably need months to secure admitting privileges, if they can get them at all, Conley concluded.