MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A federal judge ruled Monday that a portion of a 2013 Alabama law requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges was unconstitutional because it would unduly hamper a woman's ability to obtain the medical procedure.
"The evidence compellingly demonstrates that the requirement would have the striking result of closing three of Alabama's five abortion clinics, clinics which perform only early abortions, long before viability," U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson wrote. "Indeed, the court is convinced that, if this requirement would not, in the face of all the evidence in the record, constitute an impermissible undue burden, then almost no regulation, short of those imposing an outright prohibition on abortion, would."
In a 172-page opinion and an accompanying order, Thompson said state lawmakers exceeded their authority when they passed a law last year requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have hospital admitting privileges.
Thompson extended an earlier order blocking enforcement of the law and said he would issue a final order after considering more written arguments from lawyers.
"This case is not closed," Thompson wrote.
The decision came days after a federal appeals court blocked a similar law in Mississippi.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said Monday his office would appeal.
Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said the law wasn't designed to protect women, as supporters maintain.
"Major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, oppose them," she said of the Alabama law and similar ones.
Montgomery-based Reproductive Health Services and Planned Parenthood Southeast, which operates clinics in Birmingham and Mobile, sued to block the admitting privileges requirement in June 2013, saying their doctors would be unable to meet it. Their clinics use out-of-town doctors without admitting privileges and they have been unable to get local doctors with privileges to serve their clinics. The state's other two clinics, in Tuscaloosa and Huntsville, use local doctors with admitting privileges.
The suit contended that the admitting privileges provision is "medically unnecessary" and was included to force the closing of the clinics.
Before granting admitting privileges, hospitals usually require doctors to establish local residency and guarantee that they will admit a certain volume of patients each year. At a trial in May and June, doctors who worked at the three clinics said they did not live in Alabama, due to professional considerations and fears of harassment. Plaintiffs also stressed the safety of abortion procedures, noting studies that show the rate of complications from abortion is lower than many routine medical procedures.
The law also requires clinics to be built up to ambulatory standards and makes it a felony for anyone but a doctor to perform an abortion. Those portions of the law were not challenged in the lawsuit.
The law's sponsor, Republican Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin of Indian Springs, said the measure would make the clinics safer, while clinic operators said it was an attempt to shut them down through a regulation they could not meet.
Similar laws have been blocked by federal courts in Kansas and Wisconsin, while they have taken effect in Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
Contributing: The Associated Press