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Elections & Politics

Wisconsin Petitions the U.S. Supreme Court to Review a Lower Court Decision Protecting Women’s Access to Safe, Legal Abortion

Contact: Planned Parenthood Action Fund Media Office, 212-261-4433

For Immediate Release: 03.19.14

MADISON, WI — Today, the state of Wisconsin filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking review of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit preliminarily blocking a Wisconsin law that would drastically restrict access to safe and legal abortion in the state if allowed to take effect. The law — which passed in spite of the opposition of medical leaders, including American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Wisconsin Medical Society — imposes a requirement that doctors who provide abortion obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital.  As the evidence before the court demonstrated, if allowed to take effect the law would end the availability of abortion services at two of the four remaining health centers providing abortion in Wisconsin.

“It is deeply disappointing that politicians in Wisconsin continue to waste taxpayer dollars to litigate these dangerous and unconstitutional laws,” said Teri Huyck, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin.  “Far from protecting women’s health, the effect of this law if enacted would be to force an abortion later in pregnancy or cut off access to safe and legal abortion.” 

In its opinion issued in December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit upheld the preliminary injunction in a 3-0 ruling.  Writing for the majority, Judge Richard Posner held that Planned Parenthood is likely to succeed on its claim that the law would unduly burden women’s access to safe and legal abortion without advancing any medical interest.  When entering the preliminary injunction on August 2, U.S. District Court Judge William Conley wrote “there will almost certainly be irreparable harm to those women” who need access to a safe and legal abortion but could not obtain one because of the law.

“Planned Parenthood Action Fund will continue to fight these dangerous restrictions in state legislatures and courts across the country. Sadly, Wisconsin is not alone — in Texas, we’ve seen the tragic consequences of these dangerous restrictions, and politicians in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina are pushing similar bills through their State Legislatures,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.  “These dangerous and unconstitutional laws won’t be tolerated by the courts or voters. To create real change, women in states across the country need new leaders who value women’s health, to ensure that a woman’s access to health care doesn’t depend on her zip code.”

Physicians who provide safe and legal abortion at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s health centers may be unable to obtain admitting privileges for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with their skills or credentials, including the religious affiliation of the hospitals and the bylaws of local hospitals. Given the immediate effect of the Wisconsin law when signed, the physicians did not have time to attempt to obtain privileges. 

Wisconsin’s law is opposed by the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Hospital Association, the Wisconsin Public Health Association, the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, the Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards, and the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health.

Similar laws have been enjoined by state and federal courts in Alabama, Mississippi and North Dakota.  A similar Texas law took effect last fall, and as a result approximately one-third of the state’s licensed health centers that were providing abortion were forced to stop providing that care immediately. 

As taxpayers in several states are finding out, enacting dangerous, unconstitutional restrictions on women’s health care often results in costly legal battles:

  • According to reporting by the Associated Press, Kansas has paid private law firms more than $1 million to defend anti-abortion laws enacted since 2011.
  • According to reporting by RH Reality Check, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office has spent nearly $650,000 in taxpayer money on litigation defending extreme restrictions on women’s health.
  • According to reporting by Reuters, the executive director of South Dakota’s Legislative Research Council estimated that the cost of defending a 2011 law hostile to women’s health could be between $1.7 and $4 million.
  • North Dakota has allocated $400,000 to defend the extreme abortion restrictions enacted in 2013. 

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Planned Parenthood Action Fund is an independent, nonpartisan, not-for-profit membership organization formed as the advocacy and political arm of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The Action Fund engages in educational and electoral activity, including voter education, grassroots organizing, and legislative advocacy.