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Trial ends in PPFA challenge to pro-life Wisconsin laws including physician-only requirement

by | Dec 11, 2020

By Dave Andrusko

A four-day-long bench trial ended Thursday in Madison, Wi. with Judge William Conley saying he would try to enter his decision in Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s challenge to key state laws “within 30 to 60 days of final post-trial briefing, which is currently scheduled through Jan. 11,” Court House News reported.

At issue in Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Inc. et al v. Kaul, Joshua et, Joe Kelly reports, are laws that require that only physicians to perform abortions and that “mandate the same doctor who saw a patient during the first visit be physically present in the room when a woman is given an abortion pill during the second visit.” Instead, the lawsuit would “allow women to consult with doctors or nurses through video links when they take the medication,” the  Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Patrick Marley reported.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin already had a leg up. In 2015, Judge Conley, an Obama appointee, struck down a law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at a local hospital in case of emergencies. However, Kelly wrote, Judge Conley said 

that, despite his sympathy for the plaintiffs’ position, he is “still stuck with the lack of any wiggle room in the language” of the applicable case law, though he agreed that “there’s really no evidence of medical benefit for any of these three restrictions.”

The judge focused repeatedly on where the threshold for a significant or substantial burden was for women seeking an abortion and where the Wisconsin laws may fall in that regard, given that the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts’ murky determinations of that burden have not been soundly quantified in terms of, say, the percentage of women prevented

If we rely on Kelly’s story, clearly Judge Conley was looking for a way to come down on the side of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. He “seemed receptive” to the argument that “Wisconsin’s access restrictions present ‘a substantial burden’ to women seeking abortions.”

Nevertheless, the Barack Obama appointee cast doubt on the ability of a single district court to advance their claims given the state of abortion regulations in Wisconsin and the broader temperature regarding abortion laws nationwide, including in the right-shifting Seventh Circuit and conservative-heavy U.S. Supreme Court.

“I’m not sure under the current makeup of the Supreme Court and, frankly, the need for fealty to our laws at this particular time that this is the best time to advance this particular challenge,” Conley said, conceding that his comments were “a hell of a fastball to put over the plate” before the plaintiffs had a chance to present their closing arguments.

While it may be difficult to guess how Judge Conley will come down, if Planned Parenthood wins, we know exactly what they plan to do: “Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin will make abortion-inducing pills available at more than two dozen clinics if it succeeds in striking down several state laws, an attorney for the abortion provider said at the opening of a trial Monday.”

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