MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Dane County circuit court judge ruled Thursday that doctors do not have to be present when a woman takes drugs prescribed for a medical abortion, a decision that allows the practice to continue in Wisconsin.
Both abortion provider Planned Parenthood and the state Department of Justice had agreed on how the law ought to be interpreted, and Judge Richard Niess concurred. The law had been on hold since April 2013 while the case, which began in federal court but was moved to state court because of jurisdictional issues, was pending.
Niess said in his ruling that doctors have to be present when giving the drug to a woman, but they do not have to be there when the woman actually ingests the pill.
Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who defended the law, said the ruling is in line with what his office always interpreted it to mean.
"No one ever tried to enforce the law differently," he said in a statement. "Planned Parenthood's case was a frivolous action from the beginning"
But Planned Parenthood attorney Lester Pines said the lawsuit was necessary to prevent anti-abortion district attorneys from going after doctors who distribute the pills but aren't present when they are ingested.
The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the law in 2012 and Gov. Scott Walker, an abortion opponent, signed it into law. Sen. Mary Lazich, a Republican who sponsored the bill, had no immediate comment on the ruling.
The law mandates that women having nonsurgical abortions visit the same doctor three times and that the doctor must ensure the woman is having the procedure voluntarily and without coercion. Failure to follow those requirements could result in felony charges against the doctor.
Niess said in his ruling that as long as doctors make good-faith efforts to determine that women seeking abortions were voluntarily consenting to the procedure, they can't face penalties if it turns out the woman had been coerced into getting an abortion.