High court abortion ruling ends Alabama fight

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down Texas abortion laws will have repercussions in Alabama.

In a 5-3 ruling issued Monday, the court struck down Texas laws that called for abortion practitioners to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and for clinic facilities to meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical center.

Opponents of the bill said it places an undue burden on women seeking abortion access, which Justice Stephen Breyer ultimately agreed with in the majority opinion, while proponents of the bill said it was common sense legislation that protected both women and unborn children.

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“We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each impose,” Breyer wrote in the opinion. “Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a pre-viability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access…”

Alabama passed a similar bill in 2013 that would have required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, but U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson struck it down. If the Supreme Court had ruled the other way, it would have provided stronger legal footing for an appeal by the state. However, with the Supreme Court finding the Texas law unconstitutional, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange announced Monday that the state is dropping the appeal.

“While I disagree with the high court’s decision, there is no good faith argument that Alabama’s law remains constitutional in light of the Supreme Court ruling,” he said. “Accordingly, my office will dismiss our appeal of a 2014 federal court ruling declaring Alabama’s abortion clinic law unconstitutional.”

Gov. Robert Bentley released a statement that expressed disappointment in the ruling.

“As a physician, I am concerned about the medical condition of all women, especially when a woman is facing a serious health procedure,” Bentley said in the release.

“In this Texas case, the Supreme Court is making a medical ruling, without any sound medical expertise. Requiring a doctor to have admitting privileges at a local hospital protects the doctor and the patient.”

Birmingham attorney A. Eric Johnston, who helped work on the 2013 bill, acknowledged that the court ruling effectively put the law into the “waste bin of history,” but defended the provisions of the bill.

“Abortion clinics are often in substandard facilities,” he said of the ambulatory surgical center requirement. “These are surgical facilities doing invasive surgeries; things can go wrong. In the months prior to passing the law, the clinic in Birmingham had two women that had to be taken away by emergency personnel and they couldn’t get the women out on stretchers because the facility had tight corners and narrow halls.”

As for the admitting privileges portion of the law, Johnston said it was important to create a link between physicians and local hospitals instead of a woman having to take care of a medical emergency herself.

The closest clinic to Pike County residents is Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery, which is about 50 miles from Troy.

June Ayers, owner of Reproductive Health Services, said if the Alabama law passed it would have closed all Alabama clinics except one in Huntsville, making the Atlanta clinic the closest to Pike County residents.

“Women already have to travel unconscionable distances to get an abortion,” said June Ayers, owner of Reproductive Health Services. “Because of the law that says patients have to have a counseling 48 hours before an abortion, most women have to make two trips. That’s 200 miles there and back for Pike County residents.”

Courtney Brown, founder of Students for Life at Troy University, also spoke out against the Supreme Court ruling.

“Troy SFL supports the defendant’s side in the Texas case of Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt, which mandates that abortion facilities not only meet surgical ambulatory standards, but that abortionists have admitting privileges in a nearby hospital in case complications occur,” she said. “We care about both woman and child. We are heartbroken that the Supreme Court decided this morning to overlook the well-being of mothers who choose abortion in favor of keeping shoddy medical facilities open.”

Cindi Branham, public relations chairperson for Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates, disagreed with Brown’s sentiment.

“These bills are set up with the intention of closing clinics, not helping women,” she said.

“If a woman needed help we could take her to the hospital. It wouldn’t matter if we had admitting privileges or not, we could give the hospital everything they needed.”