A federal judge has temporarily halted enforcement of a new Republican law that places restrictions of doctors who perform abortions. According to the Associated Press, U.S. District Judge William Conley issued the restraining order after a hearing in a lawsuit filed Friday by Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services on the grounds that the new law would unconstitutionally restrict access to abortions in the state, that it violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of due process and that it unconstitutionally singles out doctors who perform abortions for punitive and unusual restrictions.
Conley found particularly troublesome a requirement under the new law that all physicians performing abortions have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Stating that the restraining order should remain in place at least until a July 17 hearing, Conley wrote that "there is a troubling lack of justification for the hospital admitting privileges requirement.”
Furthermore, he wrote, "the record to date strongly supports a finding that no medical purpose is served by this requirement."
The Supreme Court ruled, said Conley in his decision, that any new abortion restrictions must be aimed at protecting the health of women.
The Republican law, which legislators introduced and passed on June 7, also mandates that women be subjected to an ultrasound exam before they can access abortion services, but that aspect of the law has not been challenged. Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed the bill into law on Friday.
“This ruling is a step in the right direction for the women of Wisconsin who can now continue to make their own personal, private health care decisions,” said Wisconsin Planned Parenthood CEO Terry Huyck in a statement. “We are confident that the Court will ultimately recognize if ACT 37 is not blocked, it would unconstitutionally restrict the ability of Wisconsin women, including victims of rape and incest and women who are in need of an abortion to preserve their health, to access safe and legal abortions."
If Conley had not put the temporary hold in place, dozens of women in the state who have existing medical appointments would have to cancel them and undergo ultrasounds and other procedures to satisfy the new law.
In his ruling, Conley wrote that it's unlikely that the state will be able to meet the burden of proof to establish that the hospital admission requirement is anything more than a bureaucratic hurdle thrown in women's way. The current system, he said, "already handles efficiently the very low percentage of women seeking abortions with serious complications.”
UPDATE: The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin's legal director Larry Dupuis said in a statement, "We're thankful that the judge has put the brakes on a dangerous law that was rammed through the legislature with no thought to the health and well-being of Wisconsin women and families.
Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project said in the same press release, "Politicians in Wisconsin and across the country need to get the message that it is unlawful to arbitrarily prevent a woman from making the best decision for her family. We'll continue to fight this law and others like it around the country to stop this insidious campaign to outlaw safe and legal abortions."
[image of judge reading over verdict via Shutterstock.com]