Alabama Abortion Bill: Planned Parenthood, ACLU Sue State Over Clinic Restrictions

Last week, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit challenging Alabama law HB 57, a bill that opponents say would force three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics to close. Gov. Robert Bentley signed it in April, and the law takes effect July 1 and gives clinics 180 days to comply with restrictions. The affected clinics include Planned Parenthood facilities in Birmingham and Mobile, and a Reproductive Health Services facility in Montgomery.

In a statement on its website, the ACLU writes that the bill “places onerous and medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers.” The law requires every physician who performs an abortion at a clinic to have staff privileges at a local hospital. 

Such stipulations are all but impossible to meet, because many hospitals require physicians to live within a certain radius, oppose abortion (or ban abortion-providing doctors because they don’t want protesters outside), or require that all doctors with staff privileges admit a minimum of 12-48 patients each year. Abortion is an extremely safe procedure, with less than 0.3% of patients needing hospitalization — making it unfeasible for physicians to meet the requirement. Should patients need follow-up hospital care, most clinics currently partner out-of-town physicians with local doctors who do have hospital staff privileges.

The bill also requires clinics be built to ambulatory clinic standards. The lawsuit does not challenge that specification, though opponents at hearings last spring argued that the provision would force clinics to relocate, build new facilities, or close.

“Alabama has unconstitutionally delegated standardless and unreviewable licensing authority to private parties — the hospitals — in violation of plaintiffs’ due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, the suit reads.

Alabama is the seventh state to require admitting privileges for abortion providers. In April, a federal district court temporarily blocked a similar bill in Mississippi, arguing that the state could not revoke its only abortion clinic’s license while there was a lawsuit pending against the bill.

“This law is part of a coordinated national campaign designed to outlaw abortion, state-by-state,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “This law insults women’s intelligence by claiming to be about safety, when the true intent is to shut down clinics and prevent a woman from making a real decision about her pregnancy.