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By Verna Gates
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday set a May 19 trial date to determine whether a new Alabama law requiring doctors who perform abortions to obtain hospital admitting privileges poses a significant impediment for women seeking an abortion.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson scheduled a non-jury trial to examine if the law, which was passed last year by the Alabama Legislature, violates the constitutional rights of women who want an abortion.
The judge also extended a temporary restraining order to keep the law from taking effect until a final judgment is issued in the case.
The trial date comes two days after Thompson ordered a trial to consider if the "Women's Health and Safety Act" places an "undue" burden on women.
Two organizations that support abortion are challenging the law, arguing it will force the closure of three of the five abortion clinics in the state.
Supporters of the law say it is intended to help ensure women will have adequate health care in the event of complications from an abortion procedure.
"We are grateful that the court granted our request to set an expedited trial date," said Alabama Solicitor General Andrew Brasher.
"We have said all along that we want to resolve this case as efficiently and expeditiously as possible so that this important law can go into effect," he added.
Most abortion clinics in Alabama employ traveling physicians. Abortion providers say the new doctor requirements could result in the closure of their facilities because many Alabama hospitals are faith-based and refuse to incorporate doctors who perform abortions.
"Planned Parenthood will continue to fight these harmful restrictions with everything we've got - in the state house and the courthouse," said Staci Fox, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, one of the plaintiffs.
Other plaintiffs include Reproductive Health Services and the American Civil Liberties Union.
This week, the Alabama Senate is voting on four additional abortion laws that have recently passed the House.
The proposed legislation would increase the waiting period for abortions to 48 hours, require a mother with a non-viable fetus to consider receiving care at a prenatal hospice, extend restrictions on abortions for minors and prohibit abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
(Reporting by Verna Gates; Writing by Kevin Gray; editing by Gunna Dickson)