Judge blasts Huntsville anti-abortion protesters while striking - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Judge blasts Huntsville anti-abortion protesters while striking down law

Protesters at Alabama Women's Clinic (Source: WAFF file) Protesters at Alabama Women's Clinic (Source: WAFF file)

A federal judge said Huntsville’s abortion clinic was a major part of why he struck down Alabama’s abortion law even though they weren't named as a plaintiff in the case.

The judge ruled that the staff admitting privileges requirement violates the due process rights of women seeking abortions. Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of abortion clinics in Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery. The law currently requires doctors at abortion clinics to have approval to admit patients to nearby hospitals. Right now, three of Alabama's five clinics use out-of-town doctors who don't have admitting privileges.

[Read the judge's ruling (pdf)]

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson’s 172 pages opinion has more than a dozen references to the closed Huntsville clinic and its administrators.

“If the three other clinics [Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery] in the state were to close, as a result of the staff-privileges requirement, a large proportion of the women who would have gone to those clinics would instead have to seek abortion appointments at the Tuscaloosa and Huntsville clinics,” the judge wrote in his opinion. “Huntsville administrator Johnson testified credibly that his clinic would not be able to accommodate additional patients.”

The judge also blasted Huntsville protestors for their actions that “go beyond the run-of-the-mill political protests prompted by an issue as morally and politically charged as abortion.”

“The protestors in Huntsville were not targeting abortion patients and trying to dissuade them from going through the procedure,” Thompson wrote. “Instead, they were approaching women who sought to carry their pregnancies to term. Rather than attempting to change general public perceptions on the issue of abortions or dissuade women from obtaining abortions, the court must infer that these protesters sought to threaten economic destruction for any doctor who enabled the provision of abortion within the city. They succeeded twice in ending a doctor’s obstetric practice.”

In his opinion, the judge included multiple “fear of violence” examples abortion clinic administrators offered to the court. Dalton Johnson, the administrator of Alabama Women's Center in Huntsville, testified he now has “an alarm system at home, carries a personal firearm for protection, changes his everyday routine frequently, and visits a grocery store in a different area of town because protestors would confront him and harass him at his local grocery store.”

Reverend James Henderson has rallied pro-life supporters in protests in front of the Huntsville clinic for years. Henderson was surprised by the stories in the opinion and said his group has never threatened anyone.

Cindy Adams said she reaches out to women in trouble as a "sidewalk counselor" outside the Huntsville clinic. Adams said she counsels from her own regrets; she once had an abortion herself. She said she is livid about the verdict, but said it wasn't a surprise when Judge Thompson threw out key provisions of the law.

"Even people who support abortion say 'safe, rare and legal,'" Adams said. "So if they want it safe, why are they fighting laws that's gonna make it safer?"

Jayme Calhoun of the group Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates, said that the judge's decision highlights the "undue burden" that the laws place on the clinics. She called protesters' actions outside the clinics "far beyond compassionate counseling."

"It's a major victory for women in Alabama," she said.

In June, Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives in Huntsville surrendered its license and stopped operations. The center said it could no longer operate because of the Women’s Health and Safety Act that went into effect on July 1. The law requires abortion clinics to meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers. The downtown Huntsville clinic did not meet those standards.

According to court documents, the Tuscaloosa and Huntsville clinics provided 4,954 of the 9,009 abortions performed in Alabama in 2012. There was no breakdown given for only Huntsville.

The Huntsville clinic is not open at the present time, as it works on renovations for its new location. Protesters said they will be there to educate the public at any point it restarts operations.

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