Federal court rules Alabama abortion restrictions unconstitutional

[JURIST] The US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Northern Division [official website] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] that Alabama's recently enacted [JURIST op-ed] requirement [HB 57, text] that all doctors who provide abortions must have staff privileges to perform designated procedures at a local hospital is unconstitutional. Following a ten-day bench trial, Judge Myron H. Thompson noted in his opinion that the requirement would have the result of closing three of Alabama's five abortion clinics that perform only early abortions. The court also considered the history of severe violence against abortion providers in Alabama and the present-day hostile environment in which abortion clinics operate. Reproductive Health Services, Planned Parenthood Southeast [official websites] and their administrators, which operate abortion clinics in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Mobile, Alabama brought the lawsuit against the Attorney General of Alabama, the District Attorneys for Montgomery, Jefferson, and Mobile Counties and the State's Chief Medical Officer, challenging the constitutionality of the staff-privileges requirement. Using the standard outlined in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey [opinion, text, LII], the court found that the unavailability of abortion in these three cities would impose significant obstacles, burdens, and costs for women across Alabama and particularly for women who live in the three cities. The court also found that the state's justification for the law was weak and therefore could not pass the standard articulated by the US Supreme Court [official website]. The injunction was extended, and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange [official website] plans to appeal [Bloomberg report].

Abortion continues to be a hot-button legal issue throughout the US, with a number of states proposing laws to limit reproductive rights [JURIST backgrounder]. In April West Virginia's Governor vetoed a bill [JURIST report] that would have banned abortions later than 20 weeks after conception. Also in April the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] upheld [JURIST report] a Texas law similar to the one enacted in Alabama that requires physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Also last week the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that the Kansas legislature can withhold federal funding for two Planned Parenthood clinics.

 

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