Admitting privileges laws open new front in abortion battle

The next legal front in the abortion debate is flurry of state legislation requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at area hospitals, Kaiser Health News reports.

This week a federal district court judge struck down Alabama's admitting-privileges law, after a federal appeals court threw out a similar Mississippi law the week before, with a ruling forthcoming in Wisconsin. Texas' admitting-privileges law was upheld by a federal appeals court last November. Eleven states in all require admitting privileges for abortion providers, while 15 require them to have "some affiliation with a local hospital," according to the Guttmacher Institute.

In the context of the legislation, admitting privileges refer to a physician's credentials to admit patients to a specific hospital and provide services within. Other requirements for these credentials vary by hospital, according to the article; some require physicians to admit at least a certain number of patients annually to gain or renew privileges, while others require they live a minimum distance from the facility.

Proponents of admitting-privileges abortion laws say they make abortion safer. "Once a physician assumes the responsibility for overseeing the provision of a medical procedure, there's an obligation on the physician to follow the care through to its ultimate conclusion," Ovid Lamontagne, general counsel for Americans United for Life, told KHN. He defended the process of obtaining privileges as a way of ensuring a provider is competent and responsible.

Opponents, however, say the legislation is meant to decrease abortion's availability. Jeanne Conry, former president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, pointed out that procedures with much higher mortality rates than abortion, such as colonoscopies, do not face such requirements. Furthermore, she said, most abortion providers do not have enough patients who require hospital care to meet the admissions threshold to get privileges, according to the article.

Also complicating abortion access is the recent wave of mergers between Catholic and secular hospitals, reducing options for abortion and end-of-life services, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the KHN article
- here's the Guttmacher data (.pdf)