The federal court hearing on Planned Parenthood & the ACLU's challenge to Alabama's 2013 TRAP law continues this week, and the longer it lasts, the less coherent the state's attorneys & witnesses become. Soon, each hearing may end with an assistant Attorney General beating his or her head on the podium.
For instance, last week, the state tried to refute the notion that the TRAP (Targeted Regulations Against Abortion Providers) regulations amount to “a tax on women”. Plaintiffs asserted this because, if several clinics in Alabama are forced to close, then women will incur extra costs when they have to travel longer distances and pay for overnight stays due to the new 48 hour waiting period. Not to mention losing pay at work, paying for child care during that time, etc.
Majority of women in AL getting abortions are living in extreme poverty – estimates are around 70+%. Her estimates on the additional costs (travel, lost wages, childcare, ect) are as follows: Montgomery to Tuscaloosa: $415, B'ham to Tuscaloosa: $231, and Mobile to Tuscaloosa: $651 (Mobile to Tuscaloosa includes 2 night stay at hotel, average hotel rate of $93).
One of the state's lawyers blew off those concerns as well as the $93/night hotel cost. He asked about those hotels he sees that advertise rooms for $39 or less. Then he tossed out this nugget:
…since 40% of women seeking an abortion have not had a child, childcare isn't an issue for everyone. “Send the kids to grandma's with food! Do it while the kids are in school! Huntsville and Tuscaloosa both have clinics on Saturday so do it when you're off work!”
And furthermore, the state didn't understand why it's such a big deal to travel to another state:
AG representative kept asking the sociologist who is from CA if she knew where Phoenix City, AL is and if she knew if there was a pedestrian bridge that AL women could just waltz on over into GA on to get an abortion. Seriously.
Abruptly, the state changed tactics and asserted that the issue is all about safety and “continuity of care.” (Suddenly, the state is worried about women's health.) If the abortion provider doesn't have local hospital admitting privileges, then the woman's life could be at risk or health compromised.
The state's lawyers tried to drive this point home yesterday, when it put Dr. James Anderson on the stand to talk about the terrible consequences of abortion, the need for doctors with admitting privileges, and his relationship with a controversial anti-abortion activist whose chief claim to fame is a Home Ec degree.
“It would always be helpful,” Anderson said during a little over two hours of testimony. “When starting off brand new with a patient, you have to be like a detective . . . if I had a call from an abortion provider giving information, I'm not at all starting in the dark.”
So, if the ER doctor just needs a phone call to get up to speed on the patient, why does the clinic doctor need admitting privileges?
A courtroom observer noted this little nugget from Anderson's testimony as well:
He stated that he had had one patient die as result of abortion. She waited for a couple of days (because of worry about the expense) to go to emergency room, and was septic when she got there.
Sounds like the problem in that case was lack of access to medical care. hmmm… maybe the poor woman had already blown her savings on travel expenses, hotels, etc. and was afraid of additional hospital costs.
It might come as a surprise to a practicing physician and highly-paid state attorneys that some people don't have a portfolio full of stocks & a wallet full of credit cards.
It gets better…..
Then Dr. Anderson offered the plaintiffs yet another low-hanging curve ball of an answer:
He testified that one doctor in TX had been given admitting privileges in TX after the law was passed. When he was asked how he knew this, he said he had gotten an email from Vincent Rue. Plaintiff's attorneys brought out that Rue had been disqualified as an expert witness in abortion trials in several states. As Bryan Lymond's article points out, it was also brought out that Vincent Rue has a degree in Home Economics.
At that point, Judge Myron Thompson called for a recess so he could “consider” some questions for Dr. Anderson.
Bryan Lyman of the Montgomery Advertiser reported the resulting exchange:
Judge Thompson also questioned Anderson about his relationship with Rue, asking if Anderson had any knowledge of where Rue worked or his professional credentials. Anderson said he did not, a response that seemed to surprise Thompson.
“You don't know his employment or any organization he belongs to?” Thompson asked. “Why do you trust him?”
Then, after stressing the “continuity of care” and “safety” issues for days, the state inexplicably returned to the “no undue burden” defense of the law and called a North Carolina sociologist to testify:
“Uhlenberg was also skeptical of plaintiffs' assertions that increased travel distance would impose a greater burden on poor women, who make up the substantial majority of abortion patients. That conclusion, he said “suggests women who are poor are incapable of planning and carrying out a trip of more than 100 miles to obtain something important.”
Isn't that special? Ladies, where there's a will, there's a way!
Hell, why do we have all these gosh darn polling stations scattered all over the state? That has to cost money, right? Surely, Alabama voters are capable of “planning and carrying out a trip of more than 100 miles” if it's for something “important.” Time to stop coddling those slackers and cut back to just a couple of counties.
But then, like so many state witnesses, yet another privileged wealthy male fell apart on cross. You can almost hear the asst AG banging his head on the nearest table…..
On cross-examination by Andrew Beck, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, Uhlenberg acknowledged that he did not do direct research on abortion or abortion demography; that he had once testified in federal court that the studies on the impact of distance on abortion were “quite solid,” and that he had no evidence that the clinics would remain open if the law went into effect. On redirect, Uhlenberg said one could only speculate about the impact of the law.
That's the best the state could do to salvage ths testimony? The impact is all “speculation,” so let's speculate on the side of the state.
Judge Myron Thompson is a smart guy, so surely he can see through these hijinks. Essentially, the state is making two competing claims:
- Travel to obtain an abortion won't adversely impact women – even poor women – so if they have to go to another part of the state or another state entirely, it's no big deal.
- Abortion is so dangerous that a woman must have the same doctor at her side both during and after the procedure – even days later. So these TRAP regulations are required to protect women's health.
But #2 contradicts #1. Women who have already had to linger in a distant city for 2 days to get an abortion aren't going to camp out there for the rest of the week – just in case. They're going home! But, the farther they have to travel, the less likely they are to be near the clinic or the original doctor in the extremely unlikely event of an emergency.
With the TRAP regulations, the state is putting women at increased risk, not protecting them.
Alabama has the highest infant mortality rate in the country, but all the state is worried about is banning abortion & birth control. Money that could be spent providing health care is instead being frittered away as part of the GOP supermajority's jobs program for lawyers.
Once again, many thanks to the detailed reporting from the dedicated, courageous, and tenacious ARRA volunteers. Follow their Facebook page.