Wisconsin says Catholic hospitals can't deny abortion providers admitting privileges

The DOJ says refusing doctors privileges based on antiabortion ideology is "in active violation of federal law"

By Katie McDonough
Published August 8, 2013 4:36PM (EDT)
                    (Gerry Broome/AP)
(Gerry Broome/AP)

Efforts by three Catholic hospital systems to deny abortion providers admitting privileges are "in active violation of federal law," according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice and Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen.

Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, Columbia St. Mary's Health System and Hospital Sisters Health System each cited their Catholic affiliation as the reason they would deny privileges to physicians who perform abortions, a move that would have prevented as many as seven doctors from providing abortion care in the state.

More from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Federal law "provides that hospitals accepting federal funds may not discriminate against a physician because that physician has participated in or refused to participate in abortions," the state Justice Department said in its filing in federal court...

The state was referring to the Church Amendments, federal statutes enacted after the Supreme Court affirmed a constitutional right to abortion in Roe vs. Wade in 1973. The laws are known for protecting federally funded hospitals and doctors from being required to participate in abortion or sterilization procedures. What is less widely understood, legal experts said, is that they also protect doctors who perform abortions, including in decisions about privileges.

Wisconsin is one of a growing number of states to require abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at area hospitals, a regulatory strategy that does not impact quality of care and only serves to create barriers to access, as U.S. District Judge William Conley noted in a Friday ruling to issue a temporary injunction against the provision: “Given the substantial likelihood of success on the merits and of irreparable harm, the public’s interest is best serviced by imposing a preliminary injunction on enforcement of the admitting privileges requirement until this court can address its merits after trial."

Conley also wrote in his ruling that Wisconsin has failed to prove that the admitting privileges provision has anything to do with ensuring quality of care.

Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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