Wisconsin Abortion Clinics Are In Serious Danger, All Four Of Them

As admitting privileges laws threaten to close dozens of abortion clinics across the South, a similar fate may be on its way up north in Wisconsin. A U.S. District Judge heard arguments this week on a Wisconsin law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital — a provision that abortion providers say will shutter their clinics. Currently, there are only four abortion clinics left in Wisconsin, and only one — Affiliated Medical Services in Milwaukee — provides abortions after the 19th week of pregnancy. AMS, along with Planned Parenthood Wisconsin, filed a lawsuit after the law was approved last summer by Gov. Scott Walker.

Although District Judge William Conley temporarily blocked the law from going into effect, he seemed confused why doctors were having a hard time obtaining admitting privileges. On Thursday, he encouraged Dr. Dennis Christensen, one of three doctors who practice at AMS, to do further research on gaining admitting privileges.

"I'm being asked to strike down a law," Judge William Conley told the doctor in court. "I take no pleasure in that. If there's a way to get privileges short of that, you should do that." He added that Christensen and the clinic had months to prepare for the law.

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However, Christensen said he's been pursuing admitting privileges at two Milwaukee hospitals for months. The hospitals refuse to grant him the privileges because he hasn't treated an abortion patient in a hospital setting in more than a decade. "The fact that we've managed to keep our patients out of the hospital appears to be a detriment to getting hospital privileges," Christensen told the judge.

Wisconsin has some of the strictest restrictions on abortion in the U.S. Women must receive biased state-directed counseling that discourages them, then wait a mandated 24 hours before the procedure. Because the counseling must take place in person, women have to make two trips to the clinic.

Not only is an ultrasound required before the procedure, but the image must be shown and described to the woman. Medicaid funding for abortion is also prohibited except in rape, incest or life endangerment cases; the same goes for health care plans in the state exchange created under the Affordable Care Act.

Abortion-rights supporters contend that if AMS closes due to the admitting privileges law, it will place a much larger burden on women seeking abortions in Wisconsin. Women who need an abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy will have to go out of state. Additionally, women in need of a first- or early second-trimester procedure will have to travel further, necessitating time off work, travel expenses and even hotel stays. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 67 percent of Wisconsin women lived in a county without an abortion provider.

Dr. Dennis Christensen is not the only abortion provider who's having difficulty obtaining admitting privileges from a local hospital. Similar laws in Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Louisiana have targeted abortion doctors and shuttered clinics — or placed them in jeopardy — to the point that abortion-rights supporters say the law acts as a backdoor ban on abortion. Mississippi's lone abortion clinic, for instance, has been fighting a legal battle against the admitting privileges law for nearly two years.

Many doctors have been denied admitting privileges because hospitals are afraid of being harassed by anti-abortion groups and protesters. Just last month, a Dallas-area hospital revoked the privileges of two abortion doctors to protect its "reputation" from being "damaged."