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June 2013

Do Admitting Privileges Help Abortion Providers?

Update June 28: Reposting this because of its relevancy to SB 5 in Texas. Admitting privileges laws are nice in theory, but in actuality will harm rather than help abortion clinics and women seeking abortions.

There’s been some confusion over a recent post of mine about whether or not requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital is actually helping women receive better health care. 

What do admitting privileges laws do?

An admitting privileges law is a TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) law. The main intent of TRAP laws is to stop abortion through legislation that doesn’t outright make abortion illegal—because that would be unconstitutional and unenforceable—but instead through forcing clinics to close. TRAP laws tend to place unnecessary burdens and stigmas on abortion providers. 

An admitting privileges law signed last year was responsible for almost shutting down Mississippi’s last remaining abortion clinic. While Mississippi politicians claimed the law would ensure better health care for women, once the bill was signed into law Mississippi’s governor went on the record to proclaim how they just made Mississippi “the first abortion-free state.” Through various federal injunctions, Mississippi’s clinic was able to stay open despite being rejected from every Jackson-area hospital.

Why can’t abortion providers received admitting privileges?

Many abortion providers can. However, for abortion providers in hostile anti-choice states, including Mississippi, Alabama, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, etc., receiving admitting privileges from a local hospital is nearly impossible, for several reasons:

1) In hostile anti-choice areas, doctors are flown in from out-of-state for their own protection. (If not, they would be subject to harassment, stalking, and violence from anti-choice protesters.) Out-of-state doctors are unable to receive admitting privileges from a local hospital. 

2) Hospitals in anti-choice areas with lots of hostility tend to be afraid of being found out that they provided admitting privileges to an abortion provider. They are also looking out for their own safety. 

3) Having admitting privileges means you have to have a certain amount of patients sent to the hospital per month. While there are abortions that have unfortunate complications, overall abortions are very safe and complications are rare. 

4) Politicians are more interested in getting rid of abortion than providing adequate health care for women, so they’ll provide a much-too-quick deadline for receiving admitting privileges. This would have worked in Mississippi if it weren’t for the federal government stepping in to grant the clinic multiple injunctions.

5) If you only have a Catholic hospital in your area, then forget it. 

The Alabama state legislature recently passed an admitting privileges law similar to Mississippi’s. When reporters surveyed the hospitals in Birmingham to see who would grant admitting privileges to the abortion clinic’s doctor, this is what they found:

In Birmingham, there is one licensed abortion clinic and its doctor does not have local admitting privileges. And the chance of getting such credentials may be difficult, according to a survey of Birmingham area hospitals.

—UAB Hospital said it would not grant such credentials because UAB allows that privilege only to those on faculty;

—Trinity Medical Center and St. Vincent’s Health System issued statements that were not definitive on whether they would grant privileges to an abortion clinic doctor — but both trumpeted their opposition to abortion;

—Baptist Health System and Brookwood Medical Center didn’t respond after two days of inquiries.

Are admitting privileges necessary for abortion providers?

It’s tough to say. Hospitals are already required to provide care to anyone who needs emergency care, no matter if the person is insured or uninsured. This includes pregnant women who need a life-saving abortion, are in labor, or are suffering from the effects of a botched abortion. Many clinics already have agreements with hospitals in their areas, and hospitals do allow patients who need emergency care.

In 2011, however, the House of Representatives did pass a bill, nicknamed the “Let Women Die Bill,” that would have enabled hospitals to turn away pregnant women who need care, including a life-saving abortion. This bill, luckily, is not progressing in Congress. 

It of course would be great if all abortion providers can have admitting privileges. We need some regulation because we don’t want unsafe conditions. But in this current anti-choice climate, legislating admitting privileges is overreaching and will also cause a lot of harm. Many abortion providers have confirmed that requiring things such as admitting privileges are unnecessary burdens and a guise to further stigmatize abortion.