MONTGOMERY, Ala. - The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood filed a suit Tuesday saying Alabama's recently passed abortion clinic law will shut down three of the state's five clinics if a federal judge doesn't block it.
The law approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor this spring set stricter standards for abortion clinics. The suit challenges one part of the law requiring a physician performing an abortions at a clinic to have privileges to admit patients at a local hospital. The suit contends that this is medically unnecessary, and it asks a judge to block it from taking effect July 1.
The groups said the requirement would force Planned Parenthood centers in Birmingham and Mobile and Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery to stop providing abortions because the doctors haven't been able to get admitting privileges from local hospitals. They said reasons include hospitals' opposition to abortion and their requiring physicians to admit a minimum number of patients. They said clinic doctors rarely have complications with the procedure, and as a result don't generate enough patients to meet the requirements set by some hospitals for admitting privileges.
"The 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.
The law's sponsor, Republican Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin of Indian Springs, says she's surprised the clinics chose to go to court.
"I would have thought the clinics would have wanted to upgrade and operate in a clean and healthy manner," she said.
Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said, "Alabamians won't be fooled." She said the law was intended to reduce access to abortions in Alabama.
The law is similar to one enacted by Mississippi lawmakers in 2012. A federal judge has blocked state officials from enforcing it against the state's lone abortion clinic while the clinic challenges the law in court.
The abortion clinic legislation had been introduced in Alabama several times without success, but McClurkin got enough support to pass it after a Birmingham abortion clinic surrendered its license following a series of medical problems.
House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, made sure the bill came to a vote in the House. "When ultra-liberal, extremist groups like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood take you to court, I think it's a sign that we're on the right track," he said Tuesday.
Attorney General Luther Strange, who will have to defend the law in court, had no immediate comment on the suit.
The ACLU said the two clinics that do meet the physician requirement in the new law are West Alabama Women's Center in Tuscaloosa and Alabama Women's Center in Huntsville.