Federal judge rules Alabama abortion law unconstitutional

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from The Los Angeles Times,

A law that would have closed three of five abortion clinics in Alabama is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Monday, concluding in an extensive 172-page opinion that a “climate of extreme hostility” toward abortion already makes it difficult for doctors to perform and for women to access the procedure in the state.

The Alabama law would have required doctors who perform abortions to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital. Since many of those doctors don’t live in the state, it was unlikely any would be able to get privileges, wrote U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson.

The requirement “would have the effect of imposing a substantial obstacle for women who would seek abortions in Alabama,” he said. “The law would therefore impose an undue burden on their constitutional right to an abortion.”

Alabama Atty. Gen. Luther Strange has said he will appeal the decision.

But by invoking “undue burden,” which was the foundation for a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Thompson’s opinion signals a shift in how some courts rule on these laws.

Laws requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges have been passed and then challenged around the country, with varying results. A three-member panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Texas’ version of the law, while last week, a separate 5th Circuit panel blocked Mississippi’s.

Similar laws are in effect in Missouri, North Dakota and Tennessee, and Louisiana’s is set to take effect Sept. 1.

Legal experts say Thompson’s opinion is notable not only because it took a detailed look at the Alabama law, the Women’s Health and Safety Act, and the effects it would have on women and doctors, but the judge referred to a 1992 Supreme Court decision that set legal precedent.

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Federal judge rules Alabama abortion law unconstitutional