Alabama isn’t exactly known for their pro-choice laws.
This past March, Alabama nearly became the 6th U.S. state to require admitting privileges from abortion providers. Had the law, HB 57, been passed, it would have left only one abortion clinic standing in Alabama. Already, there are only two Planned Parenthood clinics that offer abortion in the entire state; this law would have limited women’s access not just to abortion, but to general reproductive health services, even more drastically.
8 U.S. states require their abortion providers to either have admitting privileges, or have connections to another doctor that does. I’ve heard of all sorts of restrictions when it comes to abortion laws: from treating abortion clinics like sex offenders (also in Alabama); to 24-hour waiting periods, to limits on how far along in pregnancy an abortion is able to be performed. However, I had never heard of admitting privileges in abortion clinics, and was instantly intrigued.
Admitting privileges are the rights granted to a doctor after the hospital they work for examines the doctor’s credentials and history in the medical field. These rights allow doctors to perform specific services for their patients, such as abortions, and to “admit patients to a particular hospital.” Sometimes, a doctor cannot obtain or renew admitting privileges until they reach a certain quota of the number of patients they treat. Some hospitals also require their doctors to live within a certain distance away from the hospital in order to be given admitting privileges.
Proponents of abortion admitting privileges claim the privileges are only there for safety’s sake, and that safe doctors should be meeting the criteria to earn the privileges anyway. However, pro-choice advocates argue that admitting privileges are “medically unnecessary” and “a back-door attempt to shut down clinics.” It is also worth mentioning that facilities that provide other medical procedures that are statistically riskier than abortion often do not require their doctors to obtain admitting privileges.
While examining a doctor’s licensing and professional history is an important part of maintaining a responsible and trusted hospital staff, trivial things like the distance a doctor lives from their hospital of employment have nothing to do with how safely they are able to perform medical procedures. Many doctors travel in and out of state to work at different hospitals and medical clinics, none of which suddenly diminishes their medical knowledge and skills. Also, many doctors are unable to meet the minimum amount of admitted patients needed to obtain admitting privileges, because hospitalization is unnecessary for most abortion patients.
Hospitals are also hesitant to enter the political fray that comes with providing abortions in traditionally red states, and some have even taken admitting privileges away from doctors after coming under fire with anti-abortion protestors. “For a hospital to [allow doctors admitting privileges to perform abortions in typically anti-abortion states], it would be making a conscious decision to take on the state legislature,” said Dr. Willie J Parker, who works at Mississippi’s last remaining abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Admitting privileges are just another obstacle on the laundry list of hardships doctors face when trying to provide abortions to their patients, and (perhaps more importantly) yet another hurdle for the patients themselves.