MILWAUKEE — Three Catholic hospital systems can't deny abortion providers admitting privileges, the Wisconsin Department of Justice said in a legal filing.

DOJ attorneys wrote in court filings last week that federal law prohibits hospitals that accept federal funds from discriminating against physicians who participate or refuse to participate in abortions, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported (

The filings say Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, Columbia St. Mary's Health System and Hospital Sisters Health System's plans to refuse admitting privileges to abortion providers would be violate that law.

A new state law requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services have filed a federal lawsuit arguing the requirement would force two abortion clinics in Appleton and Milwaukee to close because providers at the facilities lack admitting privileges.

The organizations argue closing the clinics would force women to travel hundreds of miles farther to clinics in Madison and Milwaukee where providers have admitting privileges. They also contend the law is unconstitutional.

DOJ attorneys defending the provision have countered the mandate is designed to ensure continuity of care for women who must be hospitalized if complications develop during an abortion. They also have argued providers at the Appleton and Milwaukee clinics in question can apply for admitting privileges.

Planned Parenthood and AMS say the doctors who lack admitting privileges have applied for them but the process takes months. The organizations also have argued some hospitals won't grant them to abortion providers based on religious or ideological stances.

U.S. District Judge William Conley earlier this week issued an injunction blocking the law until he issues a final ruling on its validity. A trial on the matter is set for November.

The chief medical officer for Wheaton Franciscan has said her organization would not grant privileges to abortion providers. A spokeswoman for Columbia St. Mary has said her organization has the same policy. So has the president of the Hospital Sisters system.

A Wheaton Franciscan spokeswoman declined to comment on the DOJ's filings to the Journal Sentinel. A Columbia St. Mary's spokeswoman said she believes her hospital's policy complies with federal and state law. A spokesman for Hospital Sisters didn't respond to repeated requests for comment from the newspaper. He told The Associated Press on Wednesday the system's lead attorney was reviewing case law on the matter.

Gretchen Borchelt is senior counsel and director of state reproductive health policy at the National Women's Law Center. She said she didn't know of any case law that supports refusing privileges to an abortion provider when the hospital isn't required to participate in the procedure, but the issue hasn't been widely tested.