Federal court denies motion from Legislature to join Planned Parenthood case

April 24, 2019 GMT

A federal judge on Tuesday denied a request by the Republican-controlled Legislature to become a party in a case challenging some of Wisconsin’s abortion laws, arguing such a move isn’t justified and would cause unnecessary complications.

The decision from Judge William Conley in the U.S. District Court for Wisconsin’s Western District splashed cold water on the GOP argument that Democratic Attorney Josh Kaul would inadequately defend the abortion laws on the books.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin brought the case against the state in January. The lawsuit asks that certain provisions of Wisconsin’s abortion laws be found unconstitutional because they restrict certain medical professionals, without any rational reason, from providing services to patients.

Among the provisions Planned Parenthood seeks to block are those that bar qualified nurses from providing abortion services, restricting those services to physicians only; one that requires a woman receiving a medication-induced abortion be given the drug by the same physician on both required clinic visits; and a provision requiring that the physician who prescribed the abortion drug be physically present when a patient is handed her pills.

The lawsuit states that violation of any of the three provisions is a felony in Wisconsin.

In March, attorneys for the Legislature requested to join the case based on several reasons, including that the Legislature has an interest in the case, it has interest in stemming any court decision that would prevent the Legislature from enacting abortion-related laws, and that Kaul won’t adequately defend the laws being challenged.

As evidence, they cited Kaul being endorsed by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s advocacy arm, his participation in a lawsuit challenging a federal abortion regulation and the assertion that his defense of the case so far “largely consists of boilerplate denials.”

Judge Conley rejected that argument as inadequate, writing that Kaul and his Department of Justice defended the laws and that the same DOJ attorneys who defended abortion regulations under previous administrations are working on the case at hand. Conley also wrote the Legislature shares the same interest in the case as the state.

Conley also expressed concern about possible political implications if the Legislature were allowed to intervene.

“To allow intervention would likely infuse additional politics into an already politically divisive area of the law and needlessly complicate this case,” Conley wrote.