Ala. Abortion Clinic Law Unconstitutional, Federal Judge Rules - Decided
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Ala. Abortion Clinic Law Unconstitutional, Federal Judge Rules

An Alabama federal judge ruled Monday that the state's abortion clinic law, requiring admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, was unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued his ruling after a three-week trial on the issue, deciding that the law in question would close more than half of Alabama's abortion clinics. AL.com reports that Judge Thompson had delayed his decision until Monday in order to consider a similar case that found Mississippi's abortion clinic law unconstitutional.

So what did the federal judge say about Alabama's abortion clinic law?

Abortions and Guns

At the conclusion of Judge Thompson's 172-page opinion, he declared unconstitutional a 2013 Alabama law requiring abortion clinics in the state to staff abortion providers with "staff privileges" at local hospitals. The Women's Health and Safety Act requires that abortion providers must be permitted at an acute care hospital in the same metropolitan area to cover "abortion-related complications." The careful wording of this law may be to sidestep criticism raised by opponents that hospitals already must accept patients in need of emergency care, but perhaps not "acute care" for complications.

What's strange about Thompson's ruling isn't that he found this provision of law unconstitutional (judges in Texas and Mississippi beat him there), but that he analogized abortion rights to gun rights. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in McDonald v. City of Chicago, Judge Thompson noted that constitutionally protected rights don't mean much if you need the state's help to exercise them and the state refuses.

Thompson quipped that if a new Alabama gun law had closed all but two gun stores in the state, then lawmakers would have "a heck of a lot of explaining" to do. The right to terminate a pregnancy is constitutionally enshrined much like the right to bear arms, and the current law presents an undue burden to women seeking to exercise this right, thus making it unconstitutional in Thompson's view.

Remedy Unclear

Despite declaring the Alabama abortion clinic law unconstitutional, the legal impact on the law itself is still up for grabs. When declaring a similar law unconstitutional in Texas, the federal court blocked the state from enforcing the law, but did not strike the law down.

However, in this Alabama case, Judge Thompson wants input from both sides before "fashioning and tailoring final relief." This may mean an injunction preventing the law from being enforced or amending the law by striking the unconstitutional provision.

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