Wisconsin Abortion Law Stays Blocked as Ruling Upheld

A Wisconsin law that effectively limits the availability of abortions in the state must remain temporarily blocked, a federal appeals court ruled, saying the plaintiffs might not recover if the freeze is lifted.

The law, passed this year, requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (48 kilometers) of a clinic. Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin said two of the state’s four elective-abortion clinics would be forced to close and another to curtail service. U.S. District Judge William M. Conley in Madison, stopped enforcement of the law in August, pending a trial.

“The district judge’s grant of the injunction must be upheld,” the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago said today in its ruling. “It is beyond dispute that the plaintiffs face greater” irreparable harm if the law goes into effect than the state does if it’s stalled, the court said.

The Wisconsin measure is one of more than 200 abortion restrictions passed nationwide since a Republican-led state-legislative push began in 2011. During that time, more than 70 clinics closed or stopped offering the procedure even as legal battles continue.

Texas Case

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott last month won an appeal of a trial court decision that blocked a similar hospital-privileges requirement in his state. The U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans said the Texas law may be enforced while it considers the state’s appeal because it doesn’t present an undue burden to abortion rights, a key constitutional test.

The appeals court in Chicago reached the opposite conclusion.

“If forced to comply with the statute, only later to be vindicated when a final judgment is entered, the plaintiffs will incur in the interim the disruption of the services that the abortion clinics provide,” the panel said of the Wisconsin law.

Parallel cases are proceeding in North Dakota, Alabama and Mississippi. Any conflicting rulings that emerge from those and other cases may eventually be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and the American Civil Liberties Union sued Wisconsin officials in July, contending the law is medically unnecessary and would force facilities to close, putting an unconstitutional burden on a woman’s right to have an abortion.

‘Personal Decision’

“These kinds of decisions should only be made by a woman, her family and her doctor,” Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said in a statement after the court ruling today. “Politicians should have no place in the complicated and personal decision about whether or not to end a pregnancy.”

The appeals court didn’t rule on the merits of the challenge to the Wisconsin law.

The lower court case is Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin Inc. v. Van Hollen, 3:13-cv-00465, U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin (Madison). The appellate case is Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin Inc. v. Van Hollen, 13-2726, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Chicago).