Striking down a state effort to “politically interfere” with a woman’s right to choose, a federal appeals court on Monday declared a Wisconsin law unconstitutional in a ruling reproductive rights advocates say is both a “victory” and an important precedent for an upcoming Supreme Court decision.
In his searing rebuke, Judge Richard Posner with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, said the law was a “clear flouting of Roe v. Wade.”
The ruling applied to a measure signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2013, known as a TRAP law—short for “targeted regulation of abortion providers.” It stipulated that an abortion provider must have admitting privileges at a local hospital, mirroring policies passed in 10 other states.
In the opinion, Judge Posner echoed the concern of medical experts, who argued that the political maneuver both threatened a woman’s constitutional right and endangered her health.
“What makes no sense is to abridge the constitutional right to an abortion on the basis of spurious contentions regarding women’s health,” Posner stated.
Indeed, during the federal trial, an independent, court-appointed medical expert said of the Wisconsin law: “I think it is an unacceptable experiment to see if you decrease access (to abortion) and see if more women die. It is not acceptable. It is not ethical.”
Following Monday’s ruling, Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said, “The federal appeals court in Wisconsin recognized what the medical experts have been saying all along: These laws aren’t about protecting women’s health, they are about shutting down clinics and preventing a woman who has decided to have an abortion from actually getting one.”
Monday’s 2-1 ruling blocks a state effort to revive the law after it was struck down by a lower court in March.
Texas is facing a U.S. Supreme Court battle over its “draconian” version of the TRAP law, in a similar case said to have wide implications for national abortion rights. The Texas law has forced the closure of over half of the state’s women’s health clinics and, according to researchers, driven up to 240,000 women in the state to dangerously attempt to end pregnancies on their own.
Had the Wisconsin law taken effect, at least one of the state’s four remaining abortion providers would have been forced to close immediately. Advocates say the resulting backlog would have “delay[ed] procedures by up to 10 weeks, forcing abortions later in pregnancy, if a woman is able to have one at all.” Earlier this year, Walker signed a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy with an extremely narrow exception for medical emergencies.
In a statement Monday, Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the Wisconsin ruling was “an important victory for women’s health and rights.”
“Laws restricting abortion hurt women—as we’ve seen in states like Texas, where restrictions are already forcing women to end pregnancies on their own, without medical assistance,” Richards said. “This is what we all feared would happen, and we’re deeply concerned that we’ll see this more and more if the Supreme Court does not intervene.”
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