Thursday, April 7, 2011
Affirming a state trial judge's conclusion rendered almost a year ago, the Arkansas Supreme Court today declared the Arkansas law banning adoption by unmarried couples unconstitutional under the state constitution in a 25 page opinion, Arkansas Department of Human Services v. Cole.
The law, Act One, was passed by the voters in November 2008 and prohibited cohabiting same-sex couples and (unmarried) heterosexual couples from becoming foster or adoptive parents.
The Arkansas Supreme Court held that there is a fundamental, if implicit, right of privacy in the state constitution: "under the Arkansas Constitution, sexual cohabitors have the right to engage in private, consensual, noncommercial intimacy in the privacy of their homes." This right was infringed by Act One which "precludes all sexual cohabitors, without exception, from eligibility for parenthood, whether by means of adoption or foster care." The court found it objectionable that under Act One state "agencies must 'police' couples seeking adoption or foster care to determine whether they are sexually involved in the event those couples represent that they are celibate."
Based on the existence of the fundamental right, the court applied a "heightened scrutiny" standard which it defined as requiring a compelling interest and least restrictive method to carry out that interest.
The court articulated the interests and concerns raised by the state and the intervenor, Family Council Action Committee, that has sponsored the ballot initiative. These concerns included arguments that unmarried cohabiting relationships are less stable, put children at higher risk for domestic violence and abuse, and have lower income rates, higher infidelty rates, and less "social support." The court did not engage in any discussion about whether or not such propositions were true, but instead concluded that such concerns could be "addressed by the individualized screening process currently in place in foster and adoption cases."
Thus, the individualized assessments were the least restrictive means and the categorical ban failed to pass "constitutional muster."
(H/T Tony Infanti, at Feminist Law Professors Blog)
[image: by Moritz Pläschke, circa 1888) via]
April 7, 2011 in Cases and Case Materials, Family, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Privacy, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, March 10, 2011
For a Conference in Milan, Italy on December 1-2, 2011, with proposals due April 24, 2011.
In virtually every nation, assertions of the need for secrecy on matters of counterterrorism policy and practice have created tensions with efforts to ensure transparency, accountability and procedural fairness. The conference is open to proposals that seek to bring comparative analysis to bear on how best to mediate these tensions, including:
- the challenge of secrecy to democratic lawmaking on counterterrorism policy;
- the use of “secrecy” privileges to block litigation challenging allegedly illegal government
- the use of classified evidence against individuals or organizations to freeze their assets, designate them as terrorist, or justify other restraints on their liberty;
- the use of “anonymous” witnesses who testify without revealing their identity;
- the closure of criminal trials and other proceedings to the public;
- and the adoption of secret coercive programs without transparent legal justification, such as the US’s coercive interrogation practices or targeted killing program.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
In the landmark case of Lawrence v. Texas, the United States Supreme Court held a statute criminalizing sodomy violated due process as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The opinion specifically noted that the case did not involve commercial sex.
But may a state constitutionally punish commercial sex involving sodomy more severely than commercial sex generally?
The complaint in Doe v. Jindal contrasts two types of commercial sex offenses: the "Crime Against Nature by Solicitation" statute criminalizes solicitation of "unnatural carnal copulation for compensation;" the general prostitution statute criminalizes solicitation of "indiscriminate sexual intercourse" for compensation. Because of the broad definition of "sexual intercourse," the general prostitution statute actually includes any act punishable by the more narrow "unnatural carnal copulation" statute.
However, the punishment for two statutes is not identical, even after recent amendments. Additionally, only convictions under one of these statutes requires registration as a sex offender. According to the complaint, Louisiana is the only state that requires sex offender registration for any solicitation offense.
The complaint alleges that this statutory scheme is a denial of equal protection, due process, and the Eighth Amendment. While due process may be the most obvious claim after Lawrence, recall O'Connor's concurring opinion in Lawrence on equal protection grounds and recall Powell's concurring opinion in Bowers v. Hardwick (the case Lawrence overruled) raising the specter of the Eighth Amendment.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
In a lengthy decision today, the European Court of Human Rights (the Grand Chamber) held Ireland's criminalization of abortion contravened the European Convention on Human Rights as to one of the three women litigants.
Central to the decision in Case of A, B, and C v. Ireland, is Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights:
1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
The challengers, A, B, and C, all residents of Ireland who traveled to the United Kingdom to obtain an abortion because of the criminalization of abortion in Ireland, argued that their rights under Article 8 were violated.
Each of the women has sympathetic circumstances. Challenger A was impoverished, suffering from depression and recovering from alcoholism, has four children in foster care with whom she is struggling to be reunited. Challenger B was single and feared an ectopic pregnancy. Challenger C was in remission from cancer, and feared both a relapse and that certain treatments may have caused damage to the fetus.
The Court found Article 8 was contravened only with regard to Challenger C. Ireland's violation was a failure to implement its existing constitutional right to an abortion when the pregnant woman's life was at stake.
The decision is thus a narrow one and certainly does not invalidate Ireland's abortion ban.
Monday, September 27, 2010
The constitutional protection of "privacy" in the internet age is a subject of ongoing debate. As the NYT reports, Congress is considering "sweeping new regulations for the Internet," to include email, "Facebook" and "Skype" messaging.
Such revisions will, of course, be subject to challenge under the First and Fourth Amendments. Jim Dempsey, of the Center for Democracy and Technology, testified before the Judiciary Committee and stressed the Fourth Amendment aspects of privacy, as well as highlighting the disarray of the current state of the law.
Dempsey's appendix to his written testimony, discussing the current state of the law regarding protection for an email, demonstrates the doctrinal disorder:
ECPA, as interpreted by the Justice Department and the courts, provides a patchwork quilt of standards for governmental access to email. Under ECPA today, the status of a single email changes dramatically depending on where it is stored, how old it is, and even the district within which the government issues or serves its process.
Standards for access to the content of an email:
• Draft email stored on desktop computer – As an email is being drafted on a personʼs computer, that email is fully protected by the Fourth Amendment: the government must obtain a search warrant from a judge in order to seize the computer and the email.
• Draft email stored on gMail – However, if the person drafting the email uses a “cloud” service such as Googleʼs gMail, and stores a copy of the draft email with Google, intending to finish it and send it later, ECPA says that Google can be compelled to disclose the email with a mere subpoena. 18 U.S.C. 2703(b).
• Content of email in transit – After the person writing the email hits “send,” the email is again protected by the full warrant standard as it passes over the Internet. Most scholars and practitioners assume that the Fourth Amendment applies, but in any case the Wiretap Act requires a warrant to intercept an email in transit.
• Content of email in storage with service provider 180 days or less – Once the email reaches the inbox of the intended recipient, it falls out of the Wiretap Act and into the portion of ECPA known as the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2703(a). At least so long as the email is unopened, the service provider can be forced to disclose it to the government only with a warrant.
• Content of opened email in storage with service provider 180 days or less – The Justice Department argues that an email, once opened by the intended recipient, immediately loses the warrant protection and can be obtained from the service provider with a mere subpoena. (Under the same theory, the sender of an email immediately loses the warrant protection for all sent email stored with the senderʼs service provider.) The Ninth Circuit has rejected this argument. The question remains unsettled in the rest of the country. The Justice Department recently sought opened email in Colorado without a warrant; when the service provider resisted, the government withdrew its request, which means in effect that outside of the Ninth Circuit there may be one standard for service providers who comply with subpoenas and one for service providers who insist on a warrant.
• Content of email in storage with service provider more than 180 days – ECPA specifies that all email after 180 days loses the warrant protection and is available with a mere subpoena, issued without judicial approval.
Dempsey, written testimony at 15.
ConLawProfs looking for a provocative class discussion or exercise could attempt to elucidate the constitutional theory underpinnings of the current state of email protection, or make arguments regarding the government's attempts to include "Facebook" or "Skype," or the application to the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy as construed by a judge who considered the military's use of private emails in her conclusion that the policy is unconstitutional.
September 27, 2010 in Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Privacy, Speech, Teaching Tips, Theory, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, April 15, 2010
"Surrogate birth mothers" often have income from the "service" they have provided, but must they report that income as income? Or, as Bridget Crawford (pictured left) asks, does an income tax reporting requirement infringe upon a surrogate’s constitutional right to privacy, as envisioned by Griswold, Eisenstadt and Lawrence?
Crawford's newest article, Taxation, Pregnancy, and Privacy, 16 William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law 327-368 (2010) (available on ssrn here), argues that surrogacy payments should be taxed, despite any constitutional (or other) claims of privacy. She reaches the same conclusion about the sale of body parts, virginity (as auctioned to the highest bidder), and the proceeds from prostitution.
It seems that substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment is no shield against the power of the Sixteenth Amendment. Our most recent discussion of the Sixteenth Amendment, including efforts to repeal it is here.
April 15, 2010 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Privacy, Reproductive Rights, Scholarship, Taxing Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Senior Judge Phyllis Kravitch (pictured left) authored a unanimous opinion for a panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (h/t How Appealing) affirming summary judgment against a claim of a firefighter who was demoted because of his extramarital affair with another employee in a Fire Department in which such liaisons seemed rather common.
What makes the relatively brief opinion in Starling v. Board County Commissioners of Palm Beach County interesting, however, is that the Eleventh Circuit assumed "arguendo" that there was a intimate right of association under the First Amendment. The court ultimately found that this right was outweighed in the public employment context, applying the balancing test of Pickering v. Board of Education. For analytic precedent, Starling cites the notorious Shahar v. Bowers, 114 F.3d 1097 (11th Cir. 1 1997) (en banc) in which the court upheld the withdrawal of an employment offer to Robin Joy Shahar from the Attorney General of Georgia, Michael Bowers [of Bowers v. Hardwick] because Shahar married her female partner. Yet as Judge Tjoflat's concurring opinion in Shahar made clear, an intimate association claim partakes of both substantive due process and First Amendment doctrine.
Thus, for practitioners, students, and theorists thinking about fundamental rights to sexuality under the due process clause, Starling may provide further support for first amendment grounding.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
A one-day Symposium gathering scholars and practitioners involved in reproductive and sexual rights will be held by the NYU Review of Law and Social Change on February 12, 2010.
Registration and other information here.
January 23, 2010 in Conferences, Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Medical Decisions, Privacy, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Reproductive Rights, Scholarship, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
UPDATE: For a comment posted by Task Force Marne PAO from Cucolo see comments to previous post here.
The "anti-pregnancy" policy announced by Major General Cucolo (pictured) previously discussed here, has caused quite a stir.
A Department Defense briefing, December 22, 2009, available from the Federal News Service (and on Lexis), is headlined:
Defense Department Conference Call With Major General Tony Cucolo, U.S. Army, Commander, 3rd Infantry Division Via Teleconference From Iraq;
Subject: Pregnancy Provision In His Recent General Order
Cucolo specifically addressed the matter of court-martial for pregnancy:
Now, I regret that the term court-martial was bandied about or mentioned by one of the earliest written reports on this. I think what they did was, they probably read the general order number one and saw the words there.
This is -- this aspect of general order number one is a good order and discipline issue. And I believe that I can handle violations of this aspect with lesser degrees of punishment.
So no, I do not -- I have not ever considered court-martial for this. I do not ever see myself putting a soldier in jail for this. I have had four soldiers. I have had to deal with four cases. In each case, they received a written reprimand, a letter of reprimand.
Now, I had two choices with that written letter of reprimand. I could have put it in their official file, which may or may not have impacted their career. But it would stay in their file, be seen at promotion boards, things like that.
Or I could put it in their local file, which is local disciplinary action, stays in the unit for a finite period of time and does not follow them when they're transferred.
In the four cases I had, they got local letters of reprimand. The obviously you say -- you know, I mean, I hold the men accountable too.
So there should have been four males punished. There were three males punished. And the reason there weren't four is because one female soldier did not want to say the name of the father, and I dropped it. I did not pursue it.
Responding to criticisms that the policy treats men and women differently, Cucolo had this to say:
The men stay in combat, and the women are sent home because they're pregnant, but both receive the same punishment, unless there are other circumstances. Both receive the same punishment.
. . . .
I am the one responsible and accountable for these 22,000 soldiers. The National Organization for Women is not. Critics are not. I appreciate -- I will listen to critics, and they add thought. But they actually don't have to do anything. I have to accomplish a very complex mission, very complex.
We are on the Kurd-Arab faultline up here. We are -- we are moving units, relocating things. It's a very dynamic atmosphere. And I am most concerned about the health, welfare, morale, well-being and fighting ability of every single one of my soldiers. And I'm going to do what it takes to maintain our strength and bring as many home as I can.
I owe that to the American -- I believe the American people expect me to do everything I can to keep every one of the soldiers -- that their money, their taxpayer dollars, trained and got ready for this -- in the fight.
December 22, 2009 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, News, Privacy, Reproductive Rights, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, December 20, 2009
The rule governs all those serving under Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo III, who commands Multi-National Division-North, including Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul and Samarra. According to the order, it is “applicable to all United States military personnel, and to all civilians, serving with, employed by, or accompanying” the military in northern Iraq, with few exceptions.
Someone would violate the policy by “becoming pregnant, or impregnating a soldier, while assigned to the Task Force Marne (Area of Operations), resulting in the redeployment of the pregnant soldier,” according to the order.
The General Order, Number 1 applicable to Iraq (download here) already prohibits, in subsection q “sexual contact of any kind with Iraqi nationals, foreign nationals, or local nationals who are not members of collation forces,” and in subsection r “cohabitation, residing, or spending the night in living quarters of any kind with a member of the opposite sex,” although excepting “lawfully married spouses” and “situations of military exigency.”
The pregnancy policy seems to have no exceptions.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
A person's constitutional rights may be curtailed simply because she or he attains the age of sixty-five.
This is the startling conclusion of Outliving Civil Rights, 86 Washington University Law Review 1053 (2009), by Professor Nina Kohn (pictured below) of Syracuse University College of Law.
Kohn argues that although well-intentioned, state statues meant to protect the elderly have "serious —and potentially unjustifiable—civil rights implications for the seniors they are designed to protect." She contends that some state actions
limit older adults’ substantive due process rights by criminalizing certain forms of consensual sexual behavior; others undermine older adults’ informational privacy rights by requiring the doctors, attorneys, priests, or other confidants to report suspected abuse or neglect to the state.
Kohn compelling argues that Lawrence v. Texas should be applicable to statutes which prohibit elder sexual "abuse." (at 1094). She is arguing, of course, that the definition of "abuse" is overbroad and includes much consensual activity. "Criminalizing consensual sexual conduct by the aged or frail is also [as in Lawrence] demeaning and stigma-creating. Already, older persons find themselves stereotyped as sexless. Indeed, sexual activity by older adults is apt to be perceived as abnormal or even pathological." She continues:
Laws that criminalize sexual activity with older adults—laws that deem their sexual partners to be felons— further entrench this stereotype of sexuality on the part of older people as perverse.Elder sexual protection statutes also create collateral consequences that are analogous to those that burdened the liberty interests of Texas homosexuals in Lawrence. Persons convicted under the Texas anti- homosexual conduct statute faced collateral consequences, including inclusion in criminal registries and negative consequences for future employment. Collateral consequences are also significant in elder abuse cases, although somewhat less direct. Persons convicted of sexual abuse of older adults are increasingly likely to be barred from working with or caring for the elderly. The “abused” adult may face unwanted protective action such as involuntary isolation from the “abuser” or involuntary removal from a shared accommodation with the “abuser.” In addition, as discussed earlier, persons investigated as victims of elder abuse are highly likely to be institutionalized as a result and are also at disproportionate risk of having their right to make personal choices eliminated through the imposition of a guardianship.
Kohn makes clear that her ultimate objective is less a blueprint for constitutional challenges to elder-protection laws than a rethinking of the paternalistic approach of such laws. She notes that elder abuse laws have most often been modeled on child-abuse laws (at 1108). (And while the courts have been explicit about the lesser constitutional rights of minors, they have not been willing to generalize substandard constitutional status for the elderly). She suggests that a better model is domestic violence. Id. (Although it might be argued that violence against women policies have not always accorded women full constitutional status).
September 26, 2009 in Disability, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Medical Decisions, Privacy, Scholarship, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Section 377 of the India Penal Code criminalizing sodomy has been declared unconstitutional by the Delhi High Court.
In a lengthy 105 page opinion, available as download here, authored by Chief Justice Muralidhar, the Court reasoned that the "underlying theme of the Indian Constitution" is that of "inclusiveness":
The inclusiveness that Indian society traditionally displayed, literally in every aspect of life, is manifest in recognizing a role for everyone. Those perceived by the majority as "deviants" pr "different" are not on that score excluded or ostracized. . . . In our view, Indian Constitutional law does not permit the statutory criminal law to be held captive by the popular misconceptions of who LGBT are. It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is anti-thesis of equality and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster the dignity of every individual.
Opinion at paragraphs 130-131.
The Court's examination of Indian constitutional law stresses the Indian Constitution as "first and foremost a social document," noting that the fundamental rights provisions are the "conscience of the Constitution." (paragraph 80). The Court considered principles of dignity, privacy, and equality in the context of the Indian and other constitutions. On the issue of whether the criminalization of sodomy furthered a governmental interest or was related to that interest, the Court discussed specific cases from other nations including Lawrence v. Texas (US), Dudgeon v. UK, Toonen v. Australia, Norris v. Republic of Ireland, National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality v. Minister of Justice (South Africa), and Vriend v. Alberta (Canada).
The Court also quoted Justice Michael Kirby's recent speech, Homosexual Law Reform: An Ongoing Blind Spot of the Commonwealth of Nations, for rationales supporting the conclusion that the anti-sodomy laws derived from the imperial rules of the British crown are "wrong." (paragraph 85).
In terms of judicial power, the Court stressed that in a democratic society it is the role of the judiciary to protect fundamental rights (paragraph 125), but noted that Parliament could choose to amend the law to be consistent with the recommendation of the Law Commission (and presumably the Court's Judgment) (paragraph 132). The Court clarified that the judgment was not retroactive.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Yesterday, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in an interesting case - Roe v. Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio. The facts of this most intriguing case are these: Thirteen year-old Jane Roe and her 21-year old soccer ccoach John Haller began a sexual relationship resulting in Jane's pregnancy. Haller encouraged Jane to terminate the pregnancy. Upon arriving at the clinic, she was asked to fill out a consent form. Per Haller's instructions, she listed her father's name and address correctly, but provided Haller's phone number. The clinic called Haller to request parental consent. When Jane's real parents discovered the chicanery, they called the police. Haller was arrested for sexual battery. Planned Parenthood was also investigated, but no criminal charges were filed. Therefore, the Roes sued Planned Parenthood for violating various Ohio statutes, including, inter alia, failing to obtain parental consent, failing to obtain Jane's properly informed consent, and failing report to report suspected sexual abuse of a minor.
The last count really is key to the importance of the case. In discovery, the Roes sought to obtain not only Jane's medical records (which Planned Parenthood provided) but also the redacted medical records of all Planned Parenthood clients going back ten years. The Roes asserted the information was necessary to prove that Planned Parenthood had engaged in a "pattern and practice" of ignoring possible sexual abuse. Based on state precedents, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that there is no such right to the information of third parties, even if redacted.
While the claims were primarily resolved on state law grounds, the ramifications for federal and state law are many. The majority of states require some form of parental notification or consent. But the facts of this case highlight just how tenuous those laws can be. A brief search of the legal literature reveals but a few articles,* but there are enough articles and cases to prove that this is not the first time this has happened, and it will likely not be the last.
So, what are the options on the consent issue? The burden could be placed firmly on the doctor to be certain that the consent is legitimate. However, the question is where does one draw the line in such situations. Haller engaged in a very manipulative scheme. It's not impossible to see some clinic being duped in the future on similar facts. If a clinic truly does act in good faith, should it be penalized? Moreover, at least one article argues that such a high burden might be an unconstitutional violation of Casey's "undue burden" standard.** Another option is to follow the lead of states likeTexas and Louisiana which require parental consent forms to be notarized. However, even this might not entirely eliminate the fraud issue. At present, it seems the most important thing to do is to recognize the issue and close any legislative loopholes (hopefully without creating new ones).
The second issue is the privacy ruling. The striking part of the ruling is that the parents were not entitled to even the redacted medical information. While the case was decided on state law grounds, and tort law as opposed to constitutional law, the right to informational privacy - especially about health information - seems to be gaining traction in this nation (see HIPAA). While the Court has yet to fully constitutionalize the right (see Whalen), in this context - where another right of privacy is implicated - there might be a stronger argument.***
I hope you find this case interesting in teaching these concepts.
* Katheryn D. Katz, The Pregnant Child's Right To Self-Determination, 62 Alb. L. Rev. 1119 (1999).
** Pammela S. Quinn, Note, Preserving Minors' Rights After Casey: The “New Battlefield” of Negligence and Strict Liability Statutes, 49 Duke L.J. 297 (1999).
*** Ingrid Schüpbach Martin, The Right To Stay In The Closet: Information Disclosures By Government Officials, 32 Seton Hall L. Rev. 407 (2002).
Monday, May 11, 2009
Policy, legal, constitutional, and philosophical arguments about the (de)criminalization of marijuana have been around for at least three decades. But new or not, prospects of reform are being seriously discussed.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Just last week, I wrote about a challenge to an Oklahoma abortion law. Abortion remains in the forefront this week in two states.
Richmond Medical Center v. Herring - In 2003, the State of Virginia passed a law called the "Partial Birth Infanticide Act." Professor Sherry Colb of Findlaw explains that at the time the law was passed, Steinberg v. Carhart had been decided, so "the prospects for such laws . . . were not good." The law was enjoined, and the Fourth Circuit upheld the injunction. Virginia filed a petition for certiorari. However, after the Court's decision in Gonzalez v. Carhart, the Court directed the Fourth Circuit to reconsider the case.
A panel heard the case in May 2008. (Its decision can be found here.) Two of the judges again held that the law was unconstitutional. The primary reason was that the law placed "an undue burden on a woman's constitutional right to choose an abortion in the second trimester, because the Act effectively prohibits the standard D&E procedure. The panel majority distinguished the federal statute at issue in Gonzales v. Carhart. While both acts required anatomical landmarks, the Virginia statute had no scienter requirement. Moreover, while the federal statute distinguished the act of delivery from the act causing fetal demise, the Virginia act did not.
Professor Colb reports that last week, the Fourth Circuit sat en banc to hear arguments in the case. Professor Colb's analysis of the case is worth reading for many reasons. First, she provides an excellent overview of the legal framework governing the abortion issue. Second, she explains in great detail why later term abortions are necessary in some cases, and explains and rebuts some of the compelling arguments against the practice. You may want to use the piece to supplement your discussion of either of the Carhart cases.
South Dakota Iniative 11 - Controversial proposals aimed at limiting - or even outlawing - abortion are not new in South Dakota. However, an initiative on the ballot tomorrow states that a woman will only be able to obtain an abortion when rape or incest is alleged if she: identifies the rapist (or incestous party), submits to a DNA test (ostensibly to prove it is the rapist's child), and the procedure takes place in the first twenty weeks of the pregnancy.
There is so much that is troubling about this law, one hardly knows where to begin. The law, as proposed, seems to be premised on the assumption that the rapist is the proverbial "stranger in the bushes." But what if the rapist is a family member, a friend, an ex-boyfriend, or even a husband? Of course, in a perfect world, all sexual assaults would be reported, but that is not the case. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network states that only sixty percent of all sexual assaults are reported. Moreover, according to RAINN, only six percent of rapists are ever incarcerated. With statistics like these, it is difficult to understand why placing such an onerous requirement on an innocent party is necessary. As the South Dakota section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynegologists states in opposition to the ban:
Uncaring, unrealistic treatment of sexual assault victims.
This ban cruelly puts too many obstacles on women who are victims of rape or incest. It mandates a lengthy, cumbersome process that is unworkable, especially for sexual assault victims who choose to undergo a medical rather than a surgical abortion. In fact, it mandates that the medical community take on a law enforcement role by forcing doctors to report rape or incest to authorities – even against an adult patient’s wishes.
This brings me to my second point. The proponents of the law seem to believe that this measure will result in the "demise of Roe v. Wade." They may be overestimating their position. As written, for the reasons stated above, not to mention the incredible affront to personal dignity that such a law would entail, I believe the Court would have little trouble applying Casey to find that this law is a "substantial obstacle" and an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion in these circumstances. The law requires identification of the rapist, as well as a DNA test. What happens if the rapist flees and is never caught? The law is unclear in this respect as well as others, as noted by its major opponent. In light of the uncertainty, it seems that women are unreasonably and unduly prevented from exercising a right unless they acquiese to increasingly intrusive demands. Moreover, what if a woman wants a medical abortion? Would the law force her to wait until she has to undergo a surgicial procedure. If so, unduly forcing a woman to wait without good medical reason would likely seem to violate Casey as well.
While the proponents may be hoping that the Court will find there is no exception to the Roe rule for rape and incest, that is unlikely. While Roe only mentions the health of the mother, a woman's psychological health would surely be important. Moreover, even if the Court were to rule that states could create limitations on abortion even in cases of rape or incest, based on Casey's statements regarding the decision to have an abortion in difficult circumstances, such as domestic violence, the limitations here likely go too far. The Supreme Court recognized the impact of violence on women's lives in Casey, and it is therefore likely that they will follow that path in any future challenges. In fact, the facts here are arguably stronger than those in Casey in that Casey pre-supposed consenual sex. In the end, the proponents of the bill could be on precipitous legal footing.
I'll try to report back on this after the election results come in.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
NPR reported yesterday that Colorado's ballot includes a measure that would amend the state constitution to define "personhood" as beginning at the moment of conception. The ballot language is here. (Colorado is the only one of several states where similar measures were proposed to gain enough signatures to put this on the ballot.)
If this should pass, the state constitutional amendment would raise serious federal constitutional questions, to say nothing of the many practical questions. From NPR's report:
Jessica Berg, a professor of law and bioethics at Case Western Reserve University, says the amendment could lead to some bizarre situations--such as counting fertilized eggs in the state census and pregnant drivers using the HOV lanes.
The measure has received some surprise opposition. The Colorado Catholic Conference opposes it, because it fears a backlash from the courts: Courts would strike down the measure and, in the process, reaffirm current abortion laws. Perhaps the Conference remembers the result of Colorado's last effort to curtail federal constitutional rights by state constitutional amendment: Romer v. Evans.