The future of a Wisconsin law restricting abortion access is unclear after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar provision on the books in Texas.
The Texas law required all abortions be performed in strictly-regulated surgical centers, with standards including sizes of rooms and doorways and staffing levels, and required that all doctors maintain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The law resulted in the closure of several abortion providers throughout the state.
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel asked the court in March to consider a similar Wisconsin law, which requires that the state's abortion providers have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. Schimel also filed an amicus brief on Texas' behalf in the Supreme Court case.
Wisconsin's law was ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court in November 2015. The Supreme Court's ruling on Monday fuels speculation that the appeals court's ruling is likely to be upheld.
"Today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a Texas abortion law is disappointing and undermines the respect due to policy makers," Schimel said. "Wisconsin is defending a similar law in a case before the Supreme Court and we expect a decision in the near future."
In the court's majority opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer cited several federal cases striking down admitting privileges requirements, including Wisconsin's.
"We add that, when directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case," Breyer wrote. "This answer is consistent with the findings of the other Federal District Courts that have considered the health benefits of other States’ similar admitting-privileges laws."
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also drew heavily from the Wisconsin case in her concurring opinion.
"Given those realities, it is beyond rational belief that H. B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law 'would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions,'" Ginsburg wrote, citing the Wisconsin decision.
Gov. Scott Walker signed Wisconsin's bill into law on July 5, 2013, just one month after it was introduced.
"Today's decision from a divided court is a prime example of activist jurists imposing their will on the people," Walker said of Monday's ruling. "These issues should be left up to the democratic process. I believe in the sanctity of life and will always fight to protect it."
Supporters of such laws say they're designed to protect women's health by setting stringent medical standards. But opponents say the changes aren't medically necessary and are designed to limit access to abortions.
A Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin spokeswoman said Monday's decision indicates it is "likely" the Supreme Court will decline to review Wisconsin's case.
"Today’s decision is a victory for women and recognizes that medical professionals should be trusted to determine the safest and best medical care for their patients — free from unnecessary government interference," said Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin president and CEO Teri Huyck. "At Planned Parenthood, our number one priority is always patient safety. Both medical and legal experts have been clear all along that laws requiring admitting privileges and hospital-type building requirements do not make patients more safe. Rather, they are a dangerous intrusion on women’s access to safe and legal abortion."
Planned Parenthood has previously-scheduled events planned Monday night in Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh and Green Bay to discuss the ruling.
"In effect, the Supreme Court has decided that the abortion industry will continue to reign unchecked as mothers are subjected to subpar conditions, not only in Texas and Wisconsin, but around the country," said Wisconsin Right to Life executive director Heather Weininger. "Despite this disappointing decision, we at Wisconsin Right to Life will continue our work to offer hope to women. The abortion industry peddles death, but we in the pro-life movement offer life."
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the ruling "put women's health and safety on the back burner for the profits of Planned Parenthood and abortion providers."
"I’m disappointed and frustrated with the decision as it disregards the intent of the law, which is similar to what we approved in Wisconsin," Vos said. "The admitting privileges requirement is intended to protect women's health. We must ensure women have access to safe health care no matter where you stand on the issue."
But Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, said the law was "about controlling women, not helping them."
"Knowing about the dire consequences that could have resulted from this law being upheld, it’s clear that this law wasn’t about protecting women’s health," Zamarripa said. "In fact, it actually served as a warning to women to not engage in sexual activity anti-choicers consider immoral, while forcing them to carry any resulting pregnancy to term as a twisted form of punishment."
Democratic former Sen. Russ Feingold, who is challenging Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, said the decision "affirms that women's reproductive rights are just that — rights." A spokesman for Johnson's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Johnson was one of 34 senators to sign onto an amicus brief supporting Texas in the case.
In addition to the admitting privileges law, Walker has signed some of the most aggressive anti-abortion measures in the nation while in office, including a bill that requires women to undergo ultrasound exams before getting abortions and a ban on abortions after 20 weeks.