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Doctor Weighs In On Supreme Court's Decision To Block Louisiana Abortion Law


The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-to-4 last week to temporarily block Louisiana from enforcing a law that would have required physicians providing abortion services to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of wherever the procedure was performed. Supporters of the law say it's intended to safeguard the health of women. Opponents say it's yet another attempt to make abortions difficult, if not impossible, for women to obtain.

We wanted to look both at the current science and state of medical practice when it comes to abortion, so we've called Dr. Willie Parker. He is a board-certified OB-GYN, the chair of the board of Physicians for Reproductive Health. And he also supervises abortion care for women in Alabama at a clinic that draws patients from some five states. Dr. Parker, thanks so much for talking with us.

WILLIE PARKER: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So, first, can I just get your thoughts about the Supreme Court decision?

PARKER: Well, while I celebrate the fact that women in Louisiana will still have access to care because of the action of the Supreme Court, it was a temporary fix. What really needs to happen is the Supreme Court needs to hear the merits of that case and weigh, definitively, because these laws - when they create barriers to women, they deny them access to very necessary care.

MARTIN: Planned Parenthood has repeatedly called requirements like this a popular tactic to restrict or eliminate access using technicalities, but the technicalities are really where the battle is being fought right now.

MARTIN: So, first of all, I want to ask you a basic question which many people may not know, which - what are admitting privileges?

PARKER: Well, admitting privileges are arrangements that hospitals have with individual physicians, saying that we will vet your credentials, and we will say that you can bring your patients here. So if I do outpatient care, like an abortion procedure, where complications are extremely rare, I would never admit enough patients to the hospital to keep those privileges. And so hospital admitting privileges are not an acknowledgement of the quality of a physician's services. It's merely a contractual arrangement with the hospital that certain physicians, who've been vetted by that hospital, can admit their patients there.

MARTIN: Let's also talk about the issue that is very much under discussion in the conservative media right now, which is matters that are being debated in New York and Virginia - or, at least, were being because they've been taken off the table in Virginia - that would have made it easier for women to obtain an abortion later in pregnancy. As you know, certainly, critics are calling this opening the door to infanticide. Is it?

PARKER: The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said that everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but nobody's entitled to their own facts. And the facts are, Michel, where abortion remains legal in this country, those laws that were under consideration in Virginia and the ones that were passed in New York don't open the door to any services that women don't already have access to. For example, in New York, it made it clear that no one can have an abortion beyond 24 weeks unless the fetus is nonviable. And so all the laws did were just clarify what was already on the books.

In Virginia, they were taking away barriers that have delayed women from getting necessary care in later stages of pregnancy. So neither of these laws would ever create the misrepresentation that the president stated in the State of the Union, where a pregnancy can be terminated minutes or days before the due date.

MARTIN: Why does this issue remain such a difficult one for this society to come to an understanding about?

PARKER: The fact that we've politicized this very important health care and we've made it, also, into a moral issue - it means that people are wrestling with subjective understandings, like morality and politics, and projecting them onto totally objective needed care, like abortion care.

MARTIN: That is Dr. Willie Parker. He's a board-certified OB-GYN. Dr. Parker, thanks so much for talking to us.

PARKER: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.