Sunday, August 12, 2018

Argentina's Senate Narrowly Rejects Legalizing Abortion

Aug. 9, 2018 (New York Times): Argentina's Senate Narrowly Rejects Legalizing Abortion, by Daniel Politi and Ernesto Londoño:

After 16 hours of deliberation, Argentina’s Senate narrowly rejected a bill to legalize abortion on Thursday, dealing a painful defeat to a vocal grass-roots movement that pushed reproductive rights to the top of Argentina's legislative agenda and galvanized abortion rights activist groups throughout Latin America, including in Brazil and Chile.

As legislators debated the bill into the early hours of Thursday morning, thousands waited outside the Congress Building in Buenos Aires, weathering the winter cold.

Supporters of the legislation, which would have legalized abortion care during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, had hoped Argentina would begin a sea change in reproductive rights in a largely Catholic region where 97 percent of women live in countries that ban abortion or allow it only in rare instances.

In the end, 38 legislators voted against legalization, 31 voted in favor, and 2 legislators abstained.

Opposition in Argentina hardened as Catholic Church leaders spoke out forcefully against abortion from the pulpit and senators from conservative provinces came under intense pressure to stand against legalization.

While the bill's failure is considered a major setback for the activists who backed it, analysts said the abortion rights movement has already brought change to Central and South America in ways that would have been impossible just years ago.

On Wednesday, demonstrators rallied in support of the Argentine bill in Uruguay, Mexico, Peru, and Chile, where they gathered in front of the Argentine Embassy in Santiago, chanting and wearing the green handkerchiefs that became the symbol of Argentina’s abortion rights movement.

Recently, activists in Argentina scored a victory with the passage of a law that seeks to have an equal number of male and female lawmakers.

"If we make a list of the things we’ve gained and the things we’ve lost, the list of things we’ve gained is much bigger,” said Edurne Cárdenas, a lawyer at the Center for Legal and Social Studies, a human rights group in Argentina that favors legalized abortion. “Sooner or later, this will be law.”

In the region, only Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana and Mexico City allow any woman to have an early-term abortion.

For Argentina, the debate over abortion has tugged at the country’s sense of self. It is the birthplace of Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s Catholics, who recently denounced abortion as the “white glove” equivalent of the Nazi-era eugenics program. Recently, though, the country has begun shifting away from its conservative Catholic roots. In 2010, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to allow gay couples to wed. Francis, then the archbishop of Buenos Aires, called that bill a “destructive attack on God’s plan.”

The organized movement that pushed the failed bill started in 2015 with the brutal murder of a pregnant 14-year-old girl by her teenage boyfriend. Her mother claimed the boyfriend’s family didn’t want her to have the baby. As debates about violence against women on social media grew into wider conversations about women’s rights, young female lawmakers gave a fresh push to an abortion bill that had been presented repeatedly in the past without going anywhere.

In June, the lower house of the Argentine Congress narrowly approved a bill allowing women to terminate pregnancy in the first 14 weeks. Current law allows abortions only in cases of rape or when a mother’s life is in danger. While the measure failed in the Senate this week, it made some inroads: among the senators who voted for it was Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who as president had opposed legalizing abortion.

“Society as a whole has moved forward on this issue,” said Claudia Piñeiro, a writer and abortion-rights activist in Argentina. “Church and state are supposed to be separate, but we’re coming to realize that is far from the case,” Ms. Piñeiro said as it became clearer that the push for legalization would lose.

“That will be the next battle.”

August 12, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Culture, International, Politics, Pro-Choice Movement, Religion and Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Telemedicine Could Help Fill the Gaps in America's Abortion Care

Aug. 7, 2018 (WIRED): Telemedicine Could Help Fill the Gaps in America's Abortion Care, by Garnet Henderson:

If a woman in Lubbock, Texas wants an abortion, the nearest clinic is 308 miles away in Fort Worth, forcing her to take time off from work, pay for travel, and likely arrange childcare to get there. If that same woman is less than ten weeks along, she’s a candidate for medication abortion—which could, theoretically, be completed in the privacy of her home. Texas, however, requires that the outdated FDA protocol for medication abortion be followed to the letter, and so the woman will have to return to the clinic within one to two weeks for a follow-up visit, despite evidence that an in-person follow-up is unnecessary.

So what if she could video chat with a doctor, pick up a prescription from her regular pharmacy, and manage her own abortion with on-call medical support— otherwise known as a telemedicine abortion?

As it turns out, similar services are already available in a handful of states, though they still involve physical visits to an office. A growing body of research suggests that medication abortion could be offered without any in-person interaction at all. It’s a possibility that is already the subject of an intense political debate that is likely to intensify with a Supreme Court more hostile toward abortion rights.

The first U.S. telemedicine abortion program began in Iowa ten years ago. Between 2008 and 2015, four Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa performed 8,765 abortions via telemedicine. Each clinic followed the same basic protocol: a patient would come into the clinic for an intake appointment, including an ultrasound, and a doctor would review her images and medical history remotely. After talking to the patient via videoconference, the doctor would enter a password to unlock a drawer in front of the patient. Inside, there were two pills. The first pill, mifepristone, the patient took with the doctor still watching. The second pill, misoprostol, she took at home. Within two weeks, the patient returned to the clinic for a follow-up to ensure the abortion was complete.

A study of the Iowa program, which included the records of about 20,000 patients, showed that telemedicine abortion is just as safe and effective as meeting with a doctor face to face. Patients in Iowa were also more likely to have their abortions earlier in their pregnancies after telehealth was introduced.

Planned Parenthood affiliates in ten states currently offer telemedicine abortion. Telehealth services are also offered at a Whole Woman’s Health clinic in Illinois and in Maine at Maine Family Planning. The Iowa program was interrupted after the state passed a law banning telemedicine abortion in 2013, but was reinstated in 2015 when the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional. Idaho was forced to repeal two laws banning the telemedicine abortion in order to settle a lawsuit with Planned Parenthood in 2017.

Despite these successful legal challenges, nineteen states currently ban telemedicine abortion. Both Oklahoma and Arkansas have tried to ban medication abortion altogether, including remote practices, but Oklahoma’s law was overturned, and a federal judge placed the Arkansas law on hold pending trial.

The Lilith Fund is one of numerous plaintiffs, led by Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, that recently announced a challenge to dozens of abortion restrictions in Texas, including the state’s telehealth abortion ban. Whole Woman’s Health Alliance is leading similar lawsuits in Virginia and Indiana.

Access to telemedicine abortions would be especially beneficial to patients in rural and other underserved areas. That doesn’t mean it will fix all problems of abortion access, of course. Medication abortion is only FDA-approved up to ten weeks of gestation, and some candidates for the procedure still prefer an in-clinic abortion. Medication abortion is a slightly longer process that still requires a follow-up visit.

The procedure—especially with some changes that make it more fully remote—has the potential to dramatically improve access. With special permission from the FDA, Gynuity Health Projects is conducting a study in Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, New York, and Maine that allows patients to receive pills by mail, eliminating the need for doctors to stock them. Mifepristone, pill number one, is regulated under the FDA’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies, which means the medication has to be dispensed by a certified prescriber, not a regular pharmacist. While patients in that study still have to get an ultrasound and medical exam, scientific evidence suggests the process could be even simpler, foregoing the ultrasound altogether. Doing so would make the process even more self-determined.

August 8, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Reproductive Health & Safety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 6, 2018

Brazil’s Supreme Court Considers Decriminalizing Abortion

Aug. 3, 2018 (New York Times): Brazil’s Supreme Court Considers Decriminalizing Abortion, by Manuela Andreoni & Ernesto Londoño:

The death of Ingriane Barbosa Carvalho on May 16, a 31-year-old mother of three who underwent an unsafe illegal abortion, illustrates the high stakes of the fight over reproductive rights that is taking place before Brazil’s Supreme Court during a rare two-day public hearing that started this past Friday.

The nation's high court is considering whether Brazil’s abortion laws — which forbid terminating pregnancies with few exceptions, including cases of rape and instances in which the mother’s life is in peril — are at odds with constitutional protections.

The hearing, which continues Monday, is unlikely to lead to the immediate legalization of abortion care, but reproductive rights activists in Brazil hope the hearing will set off a national debate on the issue, draw attention to the risks hundreds of thousands of women take each year as they resort to illegal abortions and ultimately pave the way to overhauling the existing law.

During the first day of arguments, a majority of the 26 speakers argued for decriminalizing abortion. Though the national Ministry of Health did not take an official position on the issue, Maria de Fátima Marinho, representing the ministry before the court, stated that unsafe, illegal abortions create public health challenges, leading to overcrowding of health care facilities as well as preventable illness and death.

The hearing is being held as Brazilian lawmakers take steps to adopt even more restrictive laws and abortion rights groups across the region face a strong backlash after attaining victories.

Brazil’s top court has ruled narrowly on abortion cases in recent years, signaling an inclination to expand access, but it has stopped short of making sweeping legal changes related to the issue.

In March 2017, the Socialism and Liberty Party and Anis, a women’s rights group, filed a petition asking the court to rule that abortion care within the first twelve weeks of gestation should not subject the pregnant person or the abortion provider to prosecution.

They argue that abortion laws written in 1940 violate protections conferred by the 1988 Constitution, including the right to dignity, equal protection, and access to health care.

A ruling in favor of proponents of decriminalization would be the first step toward legalizing abortion in a nation of 210 million people where an estimated one in five women have terminated unwanted pregnancies.

Estimates of the number of abortions performed in Brazil each year range from 500,000 to 1.2 million. Each year, more than 250,000 women are hospitalized as a result of complications from abortions, according to the Brazilian Health Ministry. In 2016, the last year for which official figures were available, 203 women died as a result of illegal and unsafe abortions.

Since 2000, 28 countries and regions have expanded abortion rights. Last year, lawmakers in Chile lifted the country’s total prohibition on abortion, and next week the Senate in Argentina will vote on a bill that could legalize abortion there.

The Supreme Court hearing prompted Ladyane Souza, a lawyer in Brasília, to publicly disclose that she had an abortion two years ago, even though doing so means she could be prosecuted.

“It’s very cruel to submit women to dealing with this all alone, underground,” Ms. Souza, 22, said. “During that time, I wanted very much to talk to my mother, because I felt it would have been easier if my mother knew, if my friends knew, but I was afraid of being prosecuted.”

Ms. Carvalho’s relatives opted to bury her in a cemetery several miles from her hometown after local residents reacted with outrage and scorn to details of her death. They held a low-key ceremony as her remains were deposited in an unmarked grave in a small hillside cemetery.

“I wish she had survived, so she could have been arrested and learned to be responsible,” Ms. Barbosa, her aunt, said.

August 6, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, In the Courts, International, Politics, Poverty | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 3, 2018

With fate of U.S. abortion rights unclear, Maryland House speaker aims to strengthen state protections

Aug. 2, 2018 (Washington Post): With fate of U.S. abortion rights unclear, Md. House speaker aims to strengthen state protections, by Erin Cox:

Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch plans to lead a statewide effort to enshrine a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion care in the Maryland constitution, joining other states in attempting to preempt any move by the Supreme Court to erode abortion protections.

The Speaker said he will personally introduce and earn support for legislation asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment, likely in the 2020 presidential election. An amendment would ensure that even if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, no legislation outlawing abortion could be passed in Maryland.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican who is anti-abortion, said that that letting voters decide on the issue “sounds like a great idea.” Ben Jealous, his Democratic opponent running to replace Hogan this November, vowed to campaign in support of the amendment.

Abortion opponents and abortion rights advocates believe a strongly worded dissent Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh issued last fall, in a case involving a pregnant immigrant teenager in federal custody, indicates he would favor more abortion restrictions and might support overturning the federal protections that began with Roe.

Last week, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill repealing century-old laws that criminalized abortion care. West Virginia and Alabama have initiatives on the ballot this year to clarify that their state constitutions do not protect the right to an abortion.

If Busch succeeds in persuading three-fifths of each chamber of the Maryland General Assembly to approve the constitutional amendment next year, Maryland voters would see it on the 2020 ballot.

Nine states currently have abortion protections in their state constitutions, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights: Alaska, California, Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey and New Mexico.

Busch said the amendment would insert Maryland’s existing abortion statute into the state constitution. That law was approved by the General Assembly in 1991. After antiabortion groups petitioned it to a referendum, it passed with 61.7 percent of the vote.

The law allows individuals to seek abortion care without interference from the state if the fetus is not viable outside the womb. An individual may also terminate a pregnancy at any point if the fetus has a “genetic defect or serious anomaly” or if an abortion is necessary to protect the health of the pregnant person.

Busch said he will introduce the amendment proposal when the legislature convenes in January and is confident he can find the votes from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

August 3, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, In the Courts, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Democratic governors warn: We'll pull our states out of Title X

July 31, 2018 (Politico): Democrats warn: We'll pull our states out of Title X, by Dan Diamond:

Three Democratic governors are threatening to pull out of the Title X federal family planning program if the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) moves forward with its proposal to prohibit referrals for abortion care and make other changes that would exclude abortion providers from participating in the program.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, Hawaii Governor David Ige, and Oregon Governor Kate Brown said in separate statements that if the legal battle to prevent the Trump administration's Title X changes fails, their states would not be able to participate in the “unethical” Title X program.

“We would be left with no choice but to refuse to participate in an unethical Title X program," Inslee said in a statement Monday. “Hawai‘i will not accept federal funds for these programs if the proposed rules are implemented,” Ige said. “It would leave me no choice but to act in the best interests of the citizens of Oregon and our state law, and withdraw our state’s participation from an unethical, ineffective Title X program that reduces access to essential preventive health services,” Brown said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a similar warning that his state's program would be "impossible" to continue, although he did not explicitly vow to pull New York out of the program.

The moves intensify a quickly escalating battle between the Trump administration and Title X program participants that also offer abortion care over the future of the family planning program. The deadline for public responses to the Trump administration's proposed changes was Tuesday, July 31.

Attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai'i, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia on Monday also jointly issued a comment in opposition to the proposed rule, which can be found here.

August 1, 2018 in Abortion, Contraception, Mandatory Delay/Biased Information Laws, Politics, President/Executive Branch, State and Local News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 30, 2018

7th Circuit panel affirms order blocking Indiana ultrasound abortion law

July 26, 2018 (Indianapolis Star): Court says women have 'ability to reason' in upholding block on abortion waiting period, by Vic Ryckaert:

A three-member panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld an injunction blocking an Indiana law that requires women to undergo an ultrasound and wait 18 hours before seeking abortion care.

The panel found that the 18-hour waiting period imposes an "undue burden" on women seeking abortion care.

"Women, like all humans, are intellectual creatures with the ability to reason, consider, ponder and challenge their own ideas and those of others," Judge Ilana Rovner wrote in the 51-page ruling. "The usual manner in which we seek to persuade is by rhetoric, not barriers."

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said he is reviewing the decision.

Opponents of access to safe and legal abortion blamed a rise in Indiana abortions last year, the first since 2009, on U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt's 2017 ruling that blocked the ultrasound requirement. The restriction was included in a state law passed in 2016 and signed into law by then-Governor Mike Pence.

The ACLU filed the case on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, arguing that an 18-hour wait would force those seeking abortion care to take two days off work and pay for additional travel or overnight lodging expenses.

“The ruling affirms that deeply personal decisions about abortion should be made by women in consultation with their doctors, not politicians pursuing an extreme ideological agenda,” Jane Henegar, executive director of the ACLU of Indiana, said in a statement.

ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk described the ruling as "a victory for women and another repudiation of the unnecessary and unconstitutional attempts by Indiana politicians to interfere with women’s reproductive rights.”

July 30, 2018 in Abortion, Mandatory Delay/Biased Information Laws, State and Local News, State Legislatures | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Massachusetts Passes Repeal of 173-Year-Old Abortion Ban Amid Fears for Future of Roe v. Wade

July 23, 2018 (TIME): Massachusetts Passes Repeal of 173-Year-Old Abortion Ban Amid Fears for Future of Roe v. Wade, by Samantha Cooney: 

Earlier this month, Massachusetts became the first state to formally respond to the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned in the world of a two-Trump-nominee Supreme Court. Although abortion is already legal in the state, Massachusetts still has a 173-year-old law on the books banning the procurement of a miscarriage. 

The bill is called the NASTY Women Act (Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women) and passed in a landslide. While abortion has technically been legal in the state since 1981, state legislators were driven to quick action to further protect these rights after Justice Kennedy announced his retirement.

A Masschusetts State Democrat said:

I think people are beginning to realize these are strange times we live in. Nothing is impossible, and we’ve got to have a ‘plan B.’ If these laws are enforced, what do we do? We’re not willing to sit back and say, ‘Well, it’s not going to happen here.’ The word for that is denial.

New Mexico and New York each have efforts underway to protect abortion rights as well.

While some critics accuse the NASTY Women Act and other similar bills of unnecessary political posturing, supporters cite that the rights we may take for granted are not always guaranteed. Rebecca Hart Holder, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, says "the reality is any state can have a threat to abortion care.”

July 28, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Current Affairs, Medical News, Politics, Reproductive Health & Safety, State and Local News, State Legislatures | Permalink | Comments (0)

3 Women Stabbed in March to Legalize Abortion in Chile

July 26, 2018 (teleSUR): Chile: 3 Women Stabbed in March to Legalize Abortion, by teleSUR:

Three women in Santiago, Chile were stabbed during a march to demand, legal, safe, and free abortion care by a group of hooded attackers who assaulted the protesters. Around 40,000 women marched in the demonstrations.

The three injured women received medical attention and are currently in stable condition.

There is a concerning trend of violence and harassment against pro-choice activists in South America. In Argentina, the country's Senate is debating a bill to legalize abortion within the first 14 weeks. Several videos showing men threatening women for carrying their staple green handkerchief, a symbol of the abortion rights movement in Argentina, have recently surfaced. Some of the women have been threatened with rape.

“This is terrorism; I don’t want to call it any other way. When a group wants to intimidate another to keep them from expressing their ideas freely,” says Macarena Castañeda, spokesperson for the Mesa de Accion por el Aborto, one of the groups leading the fight for access to legal, safe, and free abortion care in Chile.

The hooded attackers also injured a security officer. According to the police, several attackers are currently detained.

In Chile, former military dictator Augusto Pinochet criminalized abortion in all its forms in 1989. That law remained in place until 2017 with the approval of a bill proposed by then-president Michelle Bachelet that decriminalized abortion in three cases: rape, a risk to the mother's life, and disability. Those exceptions only comprise 3% of all abortions in Chile, according to abortion rights groups. 

Abortion remains mostly illegal in Latin America. Only in Uruguay and Cuba is it entirely legal, as well as in the Mexican capital of Mexico City.

July 28, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 27, 2018

'Handmaid's Tale' march for abortion rights in Argentina

July 25, 2018 (ABC News): 'Handmaid's Tale' march for Argentine abortion rights, by Debora Rey, Associated Press:

Demonstrators wearing red cloaks and white bonnets like the characters from Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale" demonstrated Wednesday in Argentina in favor of legalizing abortion. They silently marched with their heads bowed through the streets of Buenos Aires until they reached the Palacio del Congreso, the Congress building. During heavy rain, one of the demonstrators read a letter by "Handmaid's Tale" author Margaret Atwood, who voiced her support for the effort led by Argentine feminist groups.

Argentina's lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, approved a bill that would legalize abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. The Argentine Senate will vote on the measure on August 8. President Mauricio Macri has said that despite his personal opposition to abortion, he would not veto the bill if approved by the Senate.

Earlier this year, Atwood clashed with Argentine Vice President Gabriela Michetti, who has said that she is anti-abortion.

Atwood tweeted to Michetti: "Don't look away from the thousands of deaths every year from illegal abortions. Give Argentine women the right to choose!"

Argentina currently allows abortion only in cases of rape or risks to a woman's health, but abortion rights advocates say doctors and judges often block women from carrying out the procedure.

A 2016 report by Argentina's health ministry estimated that between 370,000 to 522,000 Argentine women undergo illegal abortions each year. Thousands of women are hospitalized for complications.

The report found complications from unsafe, illegal abortion as the main cause of maternal death in Argentina.

July 27, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 26, 2018

HHS Refuses to Release Documents on the New Office of Civil Rights (OCR)

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the opening of a new division in January of this year: The Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The OCR's primary mandate is to enforce refusal of care laws. 

Refusal of care laws essentially empower medical providers to deny care to patients if they disagree with the ethics of a particular procedure based on their religious grounds. The purported goal of these laws is to protect a healthcare provider from being forced into providing care that "violates their conscience." 

This is an Executive-ordered decision that does not require legislative or judicial approval to go into effect or to implement its new rules and regulations.

Critics of refusal of care laws express concern that these requirements do not simply "protect" health care providers consciences, but can instead seriously harm patients. These laws may lead to a pharmacist refusing to fill a birth control prescription, a doctor refusing hormone therapy to a transgender patient, limitations placed on services to LGBTQ persons and partners, and of course abortion services may also become more limited.

HHS does not require providers who refuse treatment to refer patients to other providers or provide any information at all on other providers.

The OCR further has authority to initiate compliance reviews of any organization receiving federal funding to ensure conformity to the new rules. 

Earlier this month, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) filed a lawsuit against HHS for refusing to release records pertaining to the creation of the OCR. The organizations initially requested these records via a FOIA request in January 2018. The CRR and NWLC seek knowledge of why the new division was needed, how the OCR operates, allocates funding, and may be influenced by outside groups.

"We’re filing this lawsuit to force the Trump-Pence administration to justify why it’s using resources to fund discrimination, rather than to protect patients," said Gretchen Borchelt, NWLC Vice President for Reproductive Rights and Health. 

HHS's new Office of Civil Rights follows additional moves by the Trump administration to limit equitable access to reproductive health care, including promoting the "Global Gag Rule," its domestic counterpart, and establishing regulations aimed at severely limiting funding to Title X programs. 

July 26, 2018 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, Contraception, Culture, Current Affairs, In the Media, Mandatory Delay/Biased Information Laws, Medical News, Politics, President/Executive Branch, Religion, Religion and Reproductive Rights, Reproductive Health & Safety, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Anti-Abortion Protesters at Queens Clinic Did Not Harass Patients, Judge Rules

July 22, 2018 (New York Times): Anti-Abortion Protesters at Queens Clinic Did Not Harass Patients, Judge Rules, by Jeffery C. Mays:

On Saturdays since 2012, protesters gather outside the Choices Women’s Medical Center in Jamaica, Queens, starting at 7 a.m. to urge women arriving at the clinic not to have an abortion.

According to a lawsuit filed in June 2017 by former New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, protesters "violated federal, state and city laws guaranteeing access to reproductive health care by crowding women as they entered the clinic and ignoring their requests to be left alone." Protesters routinely attempted to block the clinic entrance with large signs "with what they said were pictures of aborted fetuses," and made alleged death threats to people trying to escort women into the clinic.

The lawsuit against thirteen of the regular protesters asked a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction against the protests and create a 16-foot buffer zone around the clinic.

In a ruling issued late this past Friday denying the request for the injunction, Judge Carol Bagley Amon of the Federal District Court for the Eastern District "said the attorney general’s office 'failed to show' that any of the 13 defendants 'had the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm' patients, their companions or the people escorting women into the clinic."

Wrote Judge Amon: “The interactions on the sidewalk outside Choices were generally quite short, and there is no credible evidence that any protester disregarded repeated requests to be left alone over an extended period or changed his or her tone or message in response to requests to be left alone in a way that suggested an intent to harass, annoy, or alarm.”

The ruling has abortion rights advocates, already alarmed about the fate of Roe v. Wade following Anthony Kennedy's retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court, on high alert.

“What’s happening now is crossing a line,” said Jean Bucariadeputy director of the National Organization for Women, New York City. “You shouldn’t have to be screamed at, yelled at or harassed to get to a doctor.”

In NIFLA v. Becerra, issued this past June, the Supreme Court ruled that California crisis pregnancy centers do not have to provide women with information about how to terminate their pregnancies.

Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for New York attorney general Barbara D. Underwood, said the office was considering an appeal.

Under Mr. Schneiderman, the attorney general's office "set up a hidden camera, used female patient decoys who wore cameras to see what happened when they tried to enter the clinic, and put hidden microphones on people escorting women."

After considering the evidence, which included testimony and written logs from clinic escorts, as well as questionnaires from patients, Judge Amon "relied mostly on video from the clinic’s security cameras, which she weighted heavily."

Judge Amon said witness testimony exaggerated the “impropriety of the defendants’ conduct” and omitted “mitigating circumstances.” She called the patient questionnaires “hearsay.”

Judge Amon was nominated by President George H.W. Bush and confirmed in 1990.

Merle Hoffman, president and owner of the Choices Women’s Medical Center, founded the health care facility in 1971. She said the judge “dismissed the lived experiences of the patients, the staff and the escorts” in her decision.

Patients who make it through the gauntlet of protesters on Saturdays are often shaken once they get inside, Hoffman said. On Saturday, the clinic had about 100 gynecological patients and twenty-six who came in regarding an abortion.

“They don’t make a distinction,” Ms. Hoffman said of the protesters.

Judge Amon affirmed that the attorney general’s office has the purview to protect reproductive rights and did not rule that New York City’s clinic access law was too vague, as the defendants’ lawyers had argued. The judge also cautioned protesters against continuing to speak to patients who affirmatively ask to be left alone.

In a warning about her ruling, Judge Amon wrote: "“A word of caution — this decision should not embolden the defendants to engage in more aggressive conduct...in a few instances noted, several of the defendants’ actions came close to crossing the line from activity protected by the First Amendment to conduct prohibited by” state law.

July 24, 2018 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Call for Public Comments on Proposed Rule to Limit Title X Funding

Last month the Trump administration proposed a rule prohibiting the granting of federal Title X family planning funds to family planning providers that also perform abortions. The so-called “Domestic Gag Rule” would create new, unnecessary barriers for patients seeking access to birth control and other services from their trusted reproductive health care providers. In addition, the rule would prevent doctors and nurses across the country who receive federal funding from referring patients for safe, legal abortions. 
 
While the new rule is scheduled to go into effect immediately upon publishing of the final rule, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is required to take public comments into consideration before making the rule permanent. 
 
The Center for Reproductive Rights has posted links to assist those interested in sending comments which provide draft language and templates.
  1. Send a comment to HHS opposing the proposed rule through the Center for Reproductive Rights website using the draft language linked here
  2. Submit a comment on behalf of your organization urging HHS to rescind the rule. A template is available here. If you need support coordinating the ask within your association or developing a comment, please do not hesitate to reach out to the Lawyers Network team at lawyersnetworkinfo@reprorights.org

July 23, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Current Affairs, Medical News, Politics, President/Executive Branch | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

As Cuomo Rallies for Abortion Rights, Nixon Questions His Bona Fides

The New York Times (Jul. 10, 2018): As Cuomo Rallies for Abortion Rights, Nixon Questions His Bona Fides, by Jesse McKinley: 

The New York primary season is heating up as incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo and Democratic challenger Cynthia Nixon are both advocating, among other things, for hard line policies to protect the right to abortion and women's health services in New York State. 

Governor Cuomo told voters that New York needs to codify the right to abortion in Roe v. Wade on the state level and called on the State Legislature to pass the Reproductive Health Act to do so. He's previously put forth similar legislation, none of which made it through the State Senate's Republicans and "rogue," anti-abortion Democrats. Cuomo is also advocating for the decriminalizing of abortion--moving laws and regulations pertaining to the procedure over to the public health code instead. 

Nixon, in her primary campaign, has highlighted previous, unflattering statements by Cuomo about feminism and women as well as his failure to execute a comprehensive shift in New York reproductive policies in order to distinguish her own platform, which lies somewhat farther to the left and is endorsed by the New York Working Families Party. 

The stakes are clearly raised in in this year's Gubernatorial race in light of Trump's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Kennedy on the Supreme Court and growing concerns that the fundamental rights to abortion and reproductive health will be formidably challenged under a much more conservative court.

 

July 18, 2018 in Abortion, Contraception, Current Affairs, In the Media, Politics, State and Local News, State Legislatures | Permalink | Comments (0)

Who gets the embryos? Whoever wants to make them into babies, new law says.

The Washington Post (Jul. 17, 2018): Who gets the embryos? Whoever wants to make them into babies, new law says, by Ariana Eunjung Cha: 

New court cases cases are grappling with the decision of what to do with frozen embryos created during a marriage that later dissolves. In many cases that Cha reports on, the couples chose to create and freeze several embryos in the wake of a cancer diagnosis and treatment schedule that threatened later fertility.

When these same couples faced divorce, there were bitter divides over what should be done with the embryos: one party wanted to maintain "ownership" of the embryos for a future chance at children while the other wanted the embryos destroyed, fearing unwanted future financial or relationship obligations. 

With the number of frozen embryos in the United States soaring into the millions, disputes over who owns them are also on the rise. Judges have often — but not always — ruled in favor of the person who does not want the embryos used, sometimes ordering them destroyed, following the theory that no one should be forced to become a parent.

In Arizona, though, a "first-in-the-nation law" went into effect on July 1 that states "custody of disputed embryos must be given to the party who intends to help them 'develop to birth.'"

The legislation represents for some lawmakers the idea that frozen embryos have their own right to life, and many imagine that the implications could eventually include a delineation of when life begins and a claim to a separate set of embryonic rights of their own as human beings (rather than the discussion being centered on who "owns" the embryos). 

Some groups, like the anti-abortion Thomas More Society, advocate for that embryos to be considered "children" in the legal sense, asking judges to make decisions on disputes based on the best interest of the "child." 

Debates to extend personhood to unborn embryos and fetuses abound in anti-abortion work. Abortion rights advocates are concerned that these discussions could further disintegrate the right to abortion in the United States. "If a days-old embryo in a freezer has a right to life, why not a days-old embryo in utero?"

While judges have historically ordered disputed embryos destroyed based on the wishes of the party who does not want a child, an Arizona judge chose to balance one party's "probable inability to have a child without the embryos" against the other party's "desire to not be a father" a different way. 

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Ronee Korbin Steiner held that Ruby Torres, who wanted the embryos in order to have biological children one day, had no right to them. The judge did not order them destroyed, though, and instead ordered that they go up for donation.

Torres appealed the decision and expects a new ruling any day. 

The new Arizona law that states embryos shall be given to the party who intends to develop them to birth was written in response to this case to "help" people in Torres' situation. It also attempts to recognize the rights of those who do not want the embryos used by providing that those parties would not be liable for child support in the future. 

Both the judicial decisions and the legislation continue to prove extremely controversial:

The Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative lobbying group that has successfully pushed antiabortion legislation in the state, supported the measure, saying the bill would “lead to more consistent rulings.”

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, which represents doctors, nurses and other professionals who work on fertility issues, opposed the measure, arguing that it would have a profound impact on reproductive medicine.

Medical professionals foresee profound complications to stem-cell research in particular, which relies on embryos donated to science. Such research is believed essential in developing treatments for many diseases and conditions like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. The treatment and storage of embryos as a result of the new legislation will likely make embryonic stem cells much more scarce.

In a friend-of-the-court brief in Torres' pending appellate case, the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys urged judges in the Arizona Court of Appeals to balance the interest of each former spouse. They argue that the parties claims are not equal and that "the constitutional protection against compulsory parenthood is [generally] greater than any procreative interest in pre-embryos." 

Time will tell both if the appellate judges affirm Judge Steiner's controversial ruling (likely leading to further appeals) while we also wait for the inevitable challenges to Arizona's new embryo law.

July 18, 2018 in Abortion, Assisted Reproduction, Bioethics, Culture, Current Affairs, Fertility, Fetal Rights, In the Courts, Medical News, Parenthood, Politics, Public Opinion, Scholarship and Research, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Stem Cell Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Roe isn't just about women's rights. It's about everyone's personal liberty

July 8, 2018 (Washington Post), Roe isn't just about women's rights. It's about everyone's personal liberty, by Nancy Northup:

In an opinion piece, Nancy Northup writes that if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade "everyone's personal-liberty rights are on the line."  She explains:

The constitutional framework of Roe is about far more than abortion. It’s about rearing our children without unwarranted government interference. It’s about choosing whom we want to marry. It’s about deciding with whom we want to create a home. It’s about the right to use contraception. It’s about what the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey explained is the “promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter.”

Roe was the basis for many cases protecting liberty outside of the context of reproductive rights.  For instance, the Supreme Court relied on Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey when it held that states can't criminalize intimate sexual conduct between same sex partners in Lawrence v. Texas and guaranteed the right of same sex couples to marry in Obergefell v. Hodges

Northup argues that it is dangerous to look at Roe as a "stand-alone" case:

This guarantee of individual liberty is bound together through decades of accumulated legal precedent. Within the interconnected framework of our rights, Roe is a load-bearing element. Knock it down, and the structure falls.

The Center for Reproductive Rights' report analyzing Roe's relationship to fundamental liberty rights to marry, use contraceptives and to procreate as well as sexual rights, rights to bodily integrity and medical decision-making can be found here.

 

July 10, 2018 in Abortion, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Abortion and Reproductive Justice Conference: The Unfinished Revolution III

AllAfrica (Jul. 6, 2018): South Africa: Social Development Co-Hosts Abortion and Reproductive Justice Conference, Press Release:

The Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction, Rhodes University, the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition (South Africa), and the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, in partnership with South Africa's Department of Social Development will co-host the Abortion & Reproductive Justice: The Unfinished Revolution III conference at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa from July 8 - 12, 2018. 

The conference is the third in a series that began in Canada in 2014 and continued in Northern Ireland in 2016. This year's conference aims to focus the conversation and scholarship on jurisdictions where abortion access is highly restricted. It will provide a platform "for delegates to explore, identify, share and pursue learning and research opportunities on a range of issues relating to abortion and reproductive justice in context, including access to abortion, activism and abortion politics."

The conference aims to contribute to the vision of universal access to reproductive justice and will be broken down into three parts: workshops, knowledge sharing, and action discussions. It will include the voices of a Youth Committee to speak to issues particularly relevant to young people. 

The conference's presence in South Africa is notable, as, despite abortion being legal in the country, experts estimate that half the abortions that take place in South Africa are illegal due to lack of access to abortion providers. 

The South African Government's position on abortion and reproductive justice is predicated on the understanding that the decision to have children is fundamental to women's physical, psychological and social health and that universal access to reproductive health care services includes family planning and contraception, termination of pregnancy, as well as sexuality education and counselling programmes and services.

July 8, 2018 in Abortion, Conferences and Symposia, International, Pro-Choice Movement, Reproductive Health & Safety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Battle lines drawn over abortion ahead of Trump's supreme court pick

The Guardian (Jul. 8, 2018): Battle lines drawn over abortion ahead of Trump's supreme court pick, by Ed Pilkington:

Battle lines have been drawn over the future of abortion in America on the eve of President Donald Trump’s nomination of a second justice to the U.S. Supreme Court that could put Roe v. Wade in jeopardy.

Trump has said he will announce his nominee for the seat in a characteristic display of political braggadocio on primetime TV at 9pm ET on Monday night (July 9). On Sunday there was no indication that he had yet made his decision, as speculation continued to swirl around the shortlist for the appointment.

Both sides in the increasingly acrimonious dispute took to the Sunday political talk shows at the start of what promises to be an epic tussle over the ninth seat on the nation’s highest court. The position will be left vacant by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, 81, who had acted as the swing vote on many critical issues including abortion.

In the course of the 2016 election, Trump made changing the face of the Supreme Court a key campaign pledge that was instrumental in firing up his base of right-wing conservative voters. In the presidential debates he vowed to appoint only Justices committed to “automatically” overturning Roe.

Now, key players in the appointment are reining back on the suggestion that the newly-composed court will target the pro-choice ruling and re-criminalise the practice. Leonard Leo, the vice president of the conservative Federalist Society who selected Trump’s longlist of 25 candidates for the Supreme Court, told ABC’s This Week that warnings about Roe v Wade were a “scare tactic." Leo said that it was impossible to predict the positions of any of the leading candidates for the seat on abortion. “Nobody really knows,” he said. “We’ve been talking about this for 36 years going all the way back to the nomination of Sandra O’Connor, and after that you only have a single individual on the court who has expressly said he would overturn Roe.”

Trump is known to have interviewed at least seven candidates for the post, all drawn from the Federalist Society longlist. Of those, the shortlist is understood to have boiled down to four judges from various US Courts of Appeals– Amy Coney Barrett, Thomas Hardiman, Brett Kavanaugh, and Raymond Kethledge.

Of those individuals, Barrett is considered to have the most hard-line record opposing abortion rights, but that could cause problems among more moderate Republicans in the Senate, notably Susan Collins of Maine, who is already the target of ads being put out by pro-choice groups.

The New York Times on Sunday reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was strongly urging Trump to opt for either Hardiman or Kethledge on grounds that the other two might be impossible to get confirmed. While Barrett is problematic on the abortion issue, Kavanaugh is unpopular among some Republican senators because of his track record as staff secretary under President George W. Bush.

Democrats and pro-choice groups stepped up their rhetoric on Sunday over the danger of Trump’s second pick. Richard Blumenthal, Democratic senator from Connecticut, told ABC’s This Week that it posed a fundamental threat to abortion rights. “This next nomination will be the swing vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and equally important to eviscerate the protections of millions of Americans who suffer from existing conditions and other healthcare rights along with workers’ rights, gay rights, voting rights.”

July 8, 2018 in Abortion, Congress, In the Courts, President/Executive Branch, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Iowa Abortion Waiting Period Has Been Struck Down & It's A Major Reproductive Rights Victory

Bustle (Jun. 29, 2018): The Iowa Abortion Waiting Period Has Been Struck Down & It's A Major Reproductive Rights Victory, by Morgan Brinlee: 

Despite concerns for the future of reproductive rights in the imminent wake of Justice Kennedy's retirement, reproductive rights advocates secured a victory in Iowa last week when the Supreme Court of Iowa struck down a 72-hour waiting period imposed on women seeking abortions.

"The vast majority of women have made their decision by the time they present for care so the laws [mandating waiting periods] do not lead women to change their minds, Dr. Sarah Roberts, an abortion waiting period researcher who works as an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, tells Bustle. "They really just lead to increases in financial costs and increases in delay and also some increases in emotional distress along the way."

The Iowa Supreme Court found the restriction a violation of the state Constitution.  Dr. Sarah Roberts, an abortion waiting period researcher who works as an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, found that imposed wait periods actually lead to even greater delays in care as well as substantial increased costs for the women.

The ACLU of Iowa and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland are also involved in a lawsuit against the state's "heartbeat law," which bans abortion after 6-weeks, the time at which a fetal heartbeat can sometimes be detected. A District Court judge temporarily blocked the law, but if it goes into effect, some women may not have any option for abortion at all, as many don't find out they're pregnant until after six weeks.

July 4, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Current Affairs, In the Courts, Politics, State and Local News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Steps the Next Supreme Court Might Take to Roll Back Abortion Rights

New York Magazine (Jun. 27, 2018): Steps the Next Supreme Court Might Take to Roll Back Abortion Rights, by Ed Kilgore: 

With the announcement of Justice Kennedy's imminent retirement comes the prospect of a much more conservative Supreme Court, particularly in relation to reproductive rights. Justice Kennedy stood in the majority of the 2016 Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt decision, which reaffirmed basic abortion access rights. Trump has promised to pursue the reversal of Roe v. Wade, though, and has stated his intentions to nominate a similarly-minded next justice. 

Many states have recently enacted stricter abortion access requirements--like Louisiana's legislation banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy or Iowa's fetal heartbeat ban. "Such laws are aimed at setting up a challenge to Roe if the Supreme Court lurches to the right — which is now an imminent possibility."

While it's unlikely that, even under a more conservative court, Roe would be immediately overturned, a shift to the right on the Supreme Court will likely lead to affirmation of new, state-level abortion restrictions. For example, rather than overturn Roe, which is backed by additional, subsequent precedent in 1992's Casey and 2016's Hellerstedt, the court might instead find an opportunity to reverse Hellerstedt, as the more recent decision. Such a move might reinvigorate efforts to enact Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, likely forcing abortion providers out of business with burdensome requirements and eliminating much abortion access, especially in already-conservative states.

Either way, if Trump nominates an anti-Roe Supreme Court candidate this year, and the Senate approves them, we can expect many more legal battles on the availability of abortion. "With one SCOTUS appointment and one decision, that could all change, and we could enter a period of abortion-policy activism unlike anything America has seen in decades."

June 28, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Current Affairs, In the Media, Politics, President/Executive Branch, Public Opinion, Reproductive Health & Safety, Supreme Court, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Supreme Court Backs Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers in Free Speech Case

New York Times (Jun. 26, 2018): Supreme Court Backs Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers in Free Speech Case, by Adam Liptak: 

Justice Thomas wrote for the five-justice, conservative majority who decided Tuesday that California's "crisis pregnancy centers" cannot be forced to provide information on abortion services in the state. 

The case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, No. 16-1140, centered on a California law that requires pregnancy centers whose aim is to dissuade pregnant people from abortions to provide information on the availability of abortions in California.

The state requires the centers to post notices that free or low-cost abortion, contraception and prenatal care are available to low-income women through public programs, and to provide the phone number for more information.

The centers argued that the law violated their right to free speech by forcing them to convey messages at odds with their beliefs. The law’s defenders said the notices combat incomplete or misleading information provided by the clinics.

The state legislature enacted the law after finding that hundreds of the pregnancy centers used "intentionally deceptive advertising and counseling" to confuse or intimidate women from making informed decisions about their health care. The law also required that unlicensed clinics disclose that they are unlicensed. 

Justice Thomas wrote that the requirements for the notices regarding abortion availability were too burdensome and infringed on the clinics' rights under the First Amendment. The ruling reverses a unanimous decision from a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which had upheld the law.

Justice Breyer penned a dissent, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, citing the contradiction between the majority's decision here and a Court decision in 1992 that upheld a Pennsylvania law that required abortion-performing doctors to inform their patients about other options, like adoption. 

June 27, 2018 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, In the Courts, Politics, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Pro-Choice Movement, Religion, Religion and Reproductive Rights, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)