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Federal Judge Gives Planned Parenthood Southeast a Victory over Alabama Legislature

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Millions of Americans believe that every woman has the right to terminate a pregnancy for any reason and millions of Americans believe that abortion is the murder of an unborn child.  The majority of Alabamians believe that abortion is murder and if the State’s Republican Supermajority ever has its say on the matter, the State of Alabama would quickly abolish the practice.  The United States Supreme Court however sided with the abortion rights cause in the landmark ruling Roe versus Wade and on Monday, August 4, 2014 U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson sided with America’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, in a ruling that struck down Alabama’s controversial Women’s Health and Safety Act sponsored by State Representative Mary Sue McClurkin (R) from Indian Springs during the 2014 legislative session.

Supporters of the legislation said that the bill was necessary due to the possibility of complications with the procedure.  The bill required that the state’s abortion clinics meet the same safety standards as outpatient surgical centers.  Planned Parenthood hire physicians who often fly from state to state conducting abortions in multiple clinics.  They argued that their physicians would be unable to obtain staff privileges at a local hospital for a variety of reasons; including that most Alabama hospitals require providers to admit a certain number of patients to the hospital per year, which abortionist can not meet because complications from the procedure are so rare.  Other hospitals mandate that doctors live within a certain distance from a hospital, since many of the doctors in this business don’t actually live in Alabama they can’t meet that requirement.  Abortion clinic operators claim (with some justification) that complying with the law would have forced them to shut down.  Supporters of the law argued that women’s safety was their primary concern.

The President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, Staci Fox said, “We all want to protect patient safety, but this law doesn’t do that.  Politicians passed this law in order to make it impossible for women in Alabama to get abortions, plain and simple.  This victory ensures that women in Alabama can make their own private health care decisions without the interference from politicians,” said Fox.

The President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Cecile Richards said, “This ruling will ensure that women in Alabama will have access to safe, legal abortion and Planned Parenthood will continue to fight for our patients, because a woman’s ability to make personal medical decisions should not depend on where she lives.”

The Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which helped represent Planned Parenthood in this case, Louise Melling said, “As the judge noted today, the justifications offered for this law are weak at best.  Politicians, not doctors, crafted this law for the sole purpose of shutting down women’s health care centers and preventing women from getting safe, legal abortions.”

Planned Parenthood said in their statement, “This victory ensures that women in Alabama can make their own private health care decisions without the interference from politicians.”

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Planned Parenthood argued that the Alabama abortion clinic safety law would restrict women’s access to safe, legal abortions.  Had it gone into effect, this dangerous law would have drastically reduced the number of licensed health centers in Alabama providing abortions.

In his ruling Judge Myron Thompson wrote, “The evidence compellingly demonstrates that the requirement would have the striking result of closing three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics, clinics which perform only early abortions, long before viability. Indeed, the court is convinced that, if this requirement would not, in the face of all the evidence in the record, constitute an impermissible undue burden, then almost no regulation, short of those imposing an outright prohibition on abortion, would.”

Planned Parenthood Southeast and another women’s health care provider, Reproductive Health Services, were represented by attorneys from the Montgomery firm Sabel & Sabel, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

A similar law in Mississippi was recently struck down by a Federal appeals court panel in a 2-1 decision on similar grounds.

Judge Myron Herbert Thompson was appointed to the Federal bench in September 1980 by then President Jimmy Carter (D).

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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