Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Friday (PDF) in favor of women's rights advocates in Wisconsin, who sued over a Republican-sponsored law that would force abortion doctors to hold hospital admitting privileges, making abortions nearly impossible to obtain in the state for a period of weeks or months.
The law has been on hold following a lower court's injunction, which proponents of the law appealed to the Seventh Circuit. Writing for the majority, Judge Richard Posner called the Republican medical arguments in favor of hospital admitting privileges "feeble," noting that without more compelling grounds the law would cause an "undue burden" on women seeking an abortion and doctors who provide them.
Because the vast majority of surgical abortions are performed without adverse incident in clinics, the American Medical Association, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Wisconsin Public Health Association have all voiced opposition to the law.
"In this case the medical grounds thus far presented... are feeble, yet the burden great because of the state's refusal to have permitted abortion providers a reasonable time within which to comply," Posner wrote.
In a concurring opinion, Judge Daniel Manion lashed out at the notion that requiring hospital admitting privileges would prevent Wisconsin women from accessing abortion, and even suggested that it would not pose an undue burden to force Wisconsin women to travel out of state to obtain an abortion.
Manion also made note that Wisconsin's 24-hour waiting law would require some women to travel great distances up to four times to get an abortion, saying that while the law is "undoubtedly inconvenient," not even that rises to the level of an "undue burden."
Despite making a rather clear argument in favor of the abortion restrictions, Manion quoted a strongly pro-choice article by "Daily Show" co-creator Lizz Winstead and ultimately sided with Posner on upholding the injunction. "Wisconsin's failure to include a reasonable time for compliance merited a preliminary injunction," he wrote. "Therefore, I concur in part and concur in the judgment."
"We're glad that the court has prevented this law from taking effect," Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said in an advisory. "These kinds of decisions should only be made by a woman, her family and her doctor. Politicians should have no place in the complicated and personal decision about whether or not to end a pregnancy."
A similar law in Texas was recently upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, after a lower court found that it imposed an undue burden on women seeking an abortion.
"Today's ruling marks a major victory for Wisconsin women and sends a message to lawmakers across the country: it is unconstitutional for politicians to pass laws under a false guise of women's safety in order to interfere in a woman's personal medical decisions," Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards said in prepared remarks. "Far from protecting women's health, the effect of this law if it took effect would be to force an abortion later in pregnancy or cut off access to safe and legal abortion."