Abortion Law: Supreme Court Action Ends Wisconsin's Admitting Privileges Requirement

Jun 27, 2016

The U.S. Supreme Court has told the State of Wisconsin that justices won't weigh in on Wisconsin's law, requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

A federal appeals court previously struck down the law, prompting the state attorney general to request the review by the high court.

Justices also refused to consider an appeal from Mississippi, regarding restrictions on abortion clinics there.

The action by the court comes in the wake of the justices' decision on Monday to strike down a similar law in Texas.

ORIGINAL STORY POSTED MONDAY 6-27-16:

Wisconsin is among states poring over Monday's abortion ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. It rejected a Texas law that required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Wisconsin has a similar law, so pro-choice and pro-life groups here were eager to learn its fate.

"Today's decision was a huge victory for women and families across the country," Tanya Atkinson says. She's the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin.

Atkinson's organization, along with the ACLU, challenged Wisconsin's law. A federal appeals court struck it down. It determined admitting privileges would not advance women's health, and would present a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions. The U.S. Supreme Court reached a similar conclusion in its ruling on the Texas law on Monday.

Larry Dupuis of the ACLU believes the courts understand the impact of such laws, even if the stated intent is to protect women. "It shut down half the clinics in Texas. It would have shut down two clinics here, which is close to half of the capacity in Wisconsin," he says.

Wisconsin never enforced its admitting privileges law. It has remained on hold pending court challenges. 

"So I wouldn't want to jump to saying because the Texas statute failed, Wisconsin's statute necessarily fails. But the standard articulated by the court in this case makes it look very likely that the Wisconsin statute will fail."

The state justice department has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up Wisconsin's law, but -- in light of the Texas decision -- that probably won’t happen now, according to Howard Schweber. He's a UW-Madison professor of political science and legal studies.

"The facts may not be precisely the same: the distance required to be traveled to gain access to a clinic, the number of clinics closed, the specifics of the statute. So I wouldn't want to jump to saying because the Texas statute failed, Wisconsin's statute necessarily fails. But the standard articulated by the court in this case makes it look very likely that the Wisconsin statute will fail, because it's exactly the kind of reason the (United States Court of Appeals for the) Seventh Circuit used in striking down that statute," Schweber says.

READ: Fallout From Supreme Court Ruling Against Texas Law's Abortion Restrictions

Yet abortion opponents here say Monday's ruling won't make them give up their fight. Healther Weininger is executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life.

"It will make Wisconsin Right to Life and other organizations work that much harder to protect the unborn children throughout our state, throughout the country, and ensure there is a quality of care for the women who are seeking care," Weininger says. She adds that she considers the Supreme Court's decision a "tragedy" for women and unborn children.

Meanwhile, Pro-Life Wisconsin says its road ahead will include an effort to end all abortions. Director of Legislation Matt Sande says the organization will attempt to give all fetuses the same rights as babies carried to term. "The way to do that is through personhood -- personhood amendments, personhood bills, at the state and federal level," he says.

Sande says Pro-Life Wisconsin likely will lobby for a personhood bill, and other abortion restrictions, when the next legislative session begins in January.