- Associated Press - Friday, February 7, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Opponents of Alabama’s new abortion clinic law told a federal judge Friday that three of the state’s five clinics will close and poor women will have significantly curtailed access to abortion if the law goes into effect.

Lawyers for the state responded that the law was approved to protect women’s health and that the court can’t know the actual result on clinics ahead of time.

The two sides squared off in federal court Friday over the impact of the law that requires Alabama abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson said he will rule by late March on requests for summary judgment in the case.

Gov. Robert Bentley signed the legislation into law in April, calling it a historic day. Planned Parenthood Southeast Inc. and Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery filed a federal lawsuit challenging the admitting privileges requirement.

Clinic owners said three of the state’s abortion clinics can’t comply because their doctors live out of town or do not meet the patient volume requirements that hospitals set for admitting privileges.

“If this law goes into effect today, the clinics shut down,” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, told Thompson.

She said the clinics in Mobile, Montgomery and Birmingham will close. Kolbi-Molinas said women will have to drive hundreds of miles to the remaining clinics in Huntsville and Tuscaloosa. She said that could prove an insurmountable distance for poor women.

Clinics can’t readily find replacement doctors, Kolbi-Molinas argued. One reason was the threat of protests outside doctor’s medical practices from abortion opponents.

Thompson asked lawyers if he should consider the proximity of abortion clinics in neighboring states when considering the law’s impact.

Alabama Solicitor General Andrew Brasher told Thompson that some clinics already refer patients to a Georgia clinic if they are seeking the abortion pill, RU-486. Lawyers for the state also said it’s difficult to predict the impact on Alabama clinics and abortion access until the law is in effect.

Brasher said the abortion clinics owners cannot argue they are being treated differently than ambulatory surgical centers. He said doctors at those facilities typically have admitting privileges.

Kolbi-Molinas said procedures such as colonoscopies, which she said are more dangerous than first-trimester abortion, are performed in physicians’ offices.

Thompson previously issued a temporary restraining order that blocked the admitting privileges requirement. The judge said he will rule on requests for summary judgment before that order expires on March 24.

Clinic owners did not challenge other parts of the law that required abortion clinics to meet the same building requirements as ambulatory surgical centers, such as wider halls that can accommodate gurneys and better fire suppression equipment

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