Thursday, March 17, 2016
Professor Caroline Mala Corbin has posted to SSRN (here) the issue brief she wrote for the American Constitution Society on why the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not provide a defense to the contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act. The issue is presented in the case of Zubik v. Burwell.
Here is the abstract:
The Affordable Care Act requires that health care plans include all FDA-approved contraception without any cost sharing. In Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, for-profit businesses with religious objections successfully challenged this “contraception mandate.” In this term’s Zubik v. Burwell, it is religiously affiliated nonprofits like Baptist universities and Catholic Charities challenging the contraception benefit. But there is a major difference: these religiously affiliated nonprofits are exempt from the contraception mandate. Once they certify that they are religiously opposed to contraception and notify either their insurance carriers or the Department of Health and Human Services, the responsibility for contraception coverage shifts to private insurance companies. The nonprofits do not have to provide, pay for, or even inform their employees or students of the separate coverage.
Despite the ability to opt out of contraception coverage, many nonprofits complain that the religious accommodation itself imposes a substantial religious burden in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). According to these nonprofits, providing notice of their objections triggers the provision of contraception to their employees and students, thus making them complicit in sin. Their RFRA claim cannot succeed. RFRA requires that the contraception regulations impose a substantial religious burden and fail strict scrutiny, and neither requirement is met. First, filing paperwork to receive an exemption is not a substantial burden on the nonprofits’ religious exercise. The nonprofits’ claims to the contrary are based on a mistake of law, and while court must defer to the nonprofits’ interpretation of religious theology, courts should not defer to their interpretation of federal law. Second, the contraception mandate passes strict scrutiny: it advances compelling government interests in women’s health and equality, and the accommodation provided to objecting nonprofits is the least restrictive means of accomplishing those interests.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
SCOTUS Blog (Mar. 7, 2016): Court Restores Woman’s Right to Be a Mother, by Lyle Denniston:
In a victory for LGBTQ advocates, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision on Monday, restoring a mother’s legal parenting rights to the children she had adopted with her same-sex partner, the children’s birthmother. The case, V.L. v. E.L., originated in Alabama, where plaintiff E.L. appealed a visitation order granted to V.L. to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. The Alabama Supreme Court nullified the visitation order, refusing to recognize the adoption decree granted in Georgia.
The Court’s unsigned (“per curiam”) decision in the Alabama adoption case was based entirely on the provision in the Constitution’s Article IV declaring that “full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state,” and on the Court’s prior interpretations of that clause. If a state court has jurisdiction under its own laws to issue a decision, Monday’s opinion said, then that decision is entitled to respect in the courts of every other state.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Atlantic (Feb. 19, 2016): The Muddled Future of Reproductive Rights, by Julie Rovner:
Prior to Justice Scalia's death, the Supreme Court frequently voted 5-4 votes on controversial decisions. Following Justice Scalia's death, there is a chance that the Court could deadlock, 4-4 in cases this term. When there is a tie vote, the appellate court's decision will stand, but it does not create national precedent.
This March the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear two reproductive rights cases, one on abortion and one on contraceptive insurance coverage. Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstadt challenges a Texas law that imposes restrictions on abortion clinics. The district court struck down the law, but the Fifth Circuit's decision reversed the district court and would allow the law to go into effect with minor changes. Zurbik v. Burwell challenges the religious accommodation that has been created for religious-affiliated institutions who wish to opt-out of contraceptive coverage. Current rules do not require that religious hospitals or schools contract for contraceptive coverage. Instead, they must inform the government who their insurer is so that the government can arrange for coverage. The lower courts in the cases consolidated in Zurbik found that the administration's rules don't violate religious rights.
Because appellate courts have ruled differently on both the contraceptive regulations and the constitutionality of laws like the Texas law challenged in Whole Women's Health, a tied Supreme Court decision would prolong Circuit splits. If the Supreme Court cannot reach a decision in the two cases, it can also hold them over and re-hear them next term.
Friday, January 22, 2016
Mother Jones (Jan. 22, 2016): How Roe v. Wade Survived 43 Years of Abortion Wars, by Hannah Levintova:
Mother Jones has been on the front lines throughout the abortion wars with its up-close-and-personal profiles of women making difficult, personal reproductive choices and clinic staff dedicated to helping them. In this chronicle of its coverage, MJ traces the current spate of legislative rollbacks of Roe v. Wade to the unveiling of the "undue burden" standard in the 1992 Supreme Court decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey and the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. Perhaps most poignant is the following insight: In contrast to what Roe v. Wade accomplished back in 1973--stopping deaths from botched abortions "overnight"-- today "discussions of women's safety are more often heard in statehouses enacting further restrictions on abortion." There have been more anti-abortion laws passed since 2010 than in any other five-year period since Roe was decided.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Scotus Blog (Oct. 9, 2015): Relist Watch OT2015Edition, by John Elwood:
Currier v. Jackson Women's Health Clinic was one of several cases relisted by the court last week, but a conference has yet to be scheduled.
A challenge to a similar Texas law arrived at the Court in June. The Court issued a stay in that case, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, 15-274, by a five-to-four vote. The Court likely rescheduled Currier to allow Whole Women’s Health, which is still being briefed, to “catch up.” Since a stay requires a showing of a “reasonable probability” of a cert. grant and a “fair prospect” that a majority of the Court will conclude that the decision below was erroneous, there is a good chance we’ll see a grant of at least one of these cases once all the briefing is in.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
ThinkProgress: The Nation’s Most Restrictive Anti-Abortion Law Just Reached The Supreme Court, by Ian Millheiser:
A Mississippi law that would eliminate access to abortion within that state — a law so restrictive that it was halted by one of the most conservative federal appeals courts in the nation — arrived in the Supreme Court on Wednesday after the state filed a petition asking the justices to hear the case. Should the Court agree to do so, Mississippi could win the right to close down its only abortion clinic. . . .
Monday, February 16, 2015
MSNBC: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on abortion, race and the broken Congress, by Irin Carmon:
The Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion isn’t in danger of being overturned anytime soon, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told msnbc in a wide-ranging, exclusive interview. But Ginsburg warned that the abortion restrictions being enacted by states around the country are having an outsize impact on low-income women. . . .
Thursday, January 22, 2015
JURIST (commentary): Fourth and Fifth Circuits Confront Abortion Exceptionalism, by Caitlin Borgmann:
Federal Courts of Appeals have recently addressed two important abortion cases, either of which could end up before US Supreme Court. Last week, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heardoral arguments on the merits of a Texas law that requires abortion facilities to meet hospital-like building and construction standards. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a decision[PDF] in late December striking down a North Carolina pre-abortion ultrasound law that requires abortion providers to perform a sonogram before an abortion and to display and describe it to the woman. Each case is important for abortion rights in different ways, but a common theme the cases raise is the question of abortion exceptionalism: whether courts should treat abortion as an exceptional case when states purport to regulate it for health and safety reasons (in the Texas case) or when state restrictions encroach on the right against compelled speech (in the North Carolina case) . . . .
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
The New York Times: Texas Abortion Clinic Rules Tested in Appeals Court, by Erik Eckholm:
Lawyers for abortion clinics squared off with Texas state attorneys in a federal appeals court here on Wednesday, arguing over the constitutionality of stringent abortion clinic rules that would force more than half the remaining abortion providers in Texas to close.
But more is at stake than whether large portions of South and West Texas will be left with no abortion clinics, forcing some women to drive hundreds of miles for an abortion, for safety reasons that doctors and clinic owners call a pretense.
The case argued here — along with others arising from the hundreds ofabortion restrictions adopted by more than half of the states in recent years — poses issues that are likely to end up before the Supreme Court in the next year or two, many legal experts say . . . .
Al Jazeera America: Texas abortion clinics: How far is too far to drive?, by Michael Keller & Marisa Taylor:
Is 150 miles too far to drive in order to get an abortion? In some parts of Texas, that distance could get a lot longer, and it’s up to a federal appeals court to decide whether that places too much of a burden on women seeking to end their pregnancies. . . .
“It’s always been a little bit unclear exactly what constitutes an ‘undue burden,’” said Caitlin Borgmann, a professor at CUNY School of Law with expertise on reproductive rights law. . . .
“If women can’t access abortions, then the right is meaningless,” Borgmann said. “This very much goes to the core of what it means to be a constitutional right to abortion.”
The Al Jazeera America story includes interactive maps that show what parts of Texas would be left without any available abortion clinics if the ambulatory surgical center requirement is upheld.
Monday, December 15, 2014
The New York Times: Justices Let Abortion Decision Stand, by Adam Liptak:
The Supreme Court on Monday let stand a decision temporarily blocking an Arizona law that limits the availability of medicinal, nonsurgical abortions. As is its custom when it denies review, the court gave no reasons for its action.
The law, enacted in 2012, requires abortion providers to comply with a 2000 protocol from the Food and Drug Administration for mifepristone, anabortion-inducing drug that is sometimes called RU-486. . . .
The 2000 protocol calls for the drug to be given in higher doses than is customary today, and only in the first seven weeks of pregnancy. . . .
This denial is interesting in part because the Supreme Court had previously agreed to review a similar law from Oklahoma, which had been struck down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court had then certified questions to the Oklahoma Supreme Court regarding the law's interpretation. The Oklahoma Supreme Court read the law broadly, in a way that would have prohibited all medication abortions, including to treat ectopic pregnancies. After receiving the Oklahoma Supreme Court's interpretation, the U.S. Supreme Court in November 2013 dismissed the writ of certiorari as improvidently granted. It seemed possible that the U.S. Supreme Court would still be interested in reviewing a medication abortion restriction that was interpreted more narrowly as requiring adherence to the FDA-approved protocol. The Ninth Circuit decision on the preliminary injunction assumed for purposes of the opinion that the Arizona law only reached this far, but still found it to constitute an undue burden.
Monday, December 1, 2014
The Washington Post: Former UPS driver at center of pregnancy discrimination case before Supreme Court, by Brigid Schulte:
Peggy Young didn’t want to become a national icon for pregnant workers. She never imagined she would be at the center of a Supreme Court case that has united every major women’s rights organization on the left with major anti-abortion rights groups on the right. . . .
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in Young v. United Parcel Service this Wednesday, Dec. 3.
Sunday, November 9, 2014
NPR: Two Of Three States Reject Ballot Measures Restricting Abortion, by Jennifer Ludden:
Amid all the shakeout from this week's midterm elections, many are trying to assess the impact on abortion.
Two abortion-related ballot measures were soundly defeated. A third passed easily. And those favoring restrictions on abortion will have a much bigger voice in the new Congress. . . .
The Los Angeles Times: On abortion, election delivered mixed messages, by Maria La Ganga:
The 2014 midterm election was a mixed bag for abortion rights supporters: Two out of three state ballot measures that would have regulated the procedure went down to defeat, but control of the U.S. Senate swung to the Republican Party, with its antiabortion candidates claiming victory.
"It is a happy day for us, a great day for pro-lifers," said Marilyn Musgrave, vice president for government affairs with the Susan B. Anthony List, which advocates for female antiabortion candidates. "The life issue won." . . .
Mother Jones: The Fight for Abortion Rights Just Got a Whole Lot Harder, by Molly Redden:
Activists thought they had a chance to expand reproductive rights. The Red Wave put an end to that
The GOP wave didn't just crash into the US Senate. It flooded state legislatures, as well. By Wednesday evening, Republicans were in control of 67 of the nation's 99 state legislative chambers—up from 57 before the election. It's still unclear which party will control two other chambers.
Already, anti-abortion advocates are calling it a big win. Hundreds of the country'smost extreme anti-abortion bills pop up in these statehouses every year, and Tuesday's results won't do anything to put a stop to that. But reproductive rights advocates also suffered big setbacks Tuesday in places where they had actually been playing offense. Now, Democratic losses in states like Colorado, Nevada, New York, and Washington could torpedo their efforts to expand reproductive rights. . . .
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
The New York Times: Texas Abortion Clinics to Reopen Despite a Future in Legal Limbo, by Erik Eckholm:
A day after the Supreme Court blocked a Texas law that had forced abortion clinics to close, some of the shuttered facilities prepared to reopen, pleased at the reprieve but mindful that the legal fight was far from over.
Tuesday’s order increased the chances, legal experts said, of a major face-off in the Supreme Court over a crucial question: What restrictions add up to an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to abortion? . . .
While the order did not necessarily reveal how or whether the Supreme Court might ultimately rule, it did indicate that the justices “saw the potentially irrevocable damage if the clinics were forced to close,” said Caitlin E. Borgmann, a professor at the CUNY School of Law in New York.
. . . The basic issue, Ms. Borgmann said, is how much a state may restrict abortion without banning it altogether.
“How much travel is too much? How much do costs matter? These are questions the Supreme Court has never answered,” Ms. Borgmann said, adding that appeals of the Texas law could give the court an opportunity to clarify the issue. . . .
The New York Times: Supreme Court Allows Texas Abortion Clinics to Stay Open, by Adam Liptak:
The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed more than a dozen Texas abortion clinics to reopen, blocking a state law that had imposed strict requirements on abortion providers. Had the law been allowed to stand, it would have caused all but eight of the state’s abortion clinics to close and would have required many women to travel more than 150 miles to the nearest abortion provider.
The Supreme Court’s order — five sentences long and with no explanation of the justices’ reasoning — represents an interim step in a legal fight that is far from over. But abortion rights advocates welcomed what they said was the enormous practical impact of the move. Had the clinics been forced to remain closed while appeals went forward, they said, they might never have reopened. . . .
The Supreme Court, in an unsigned order apparently reflecting the views of six justices, blocked the surgical-center requirement entirely and the admitting-privileges requirement as it applied to clinics in McAllen, Tex., and El Paso.
Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. said they would have allowed the law to be enforced. . . .
See also: SCOTUSblog: Court blocks abortion limits in Texas, by Lyle Denniston.
This is significant, because when the Court last November considered only the admitting privileges portion of this law on an emergency basis, it refused to block the Fifth Circuit's ruling that allowed the law to take effect. That time, the 4 liberal Justices dissented.
Monday, September 8, 2014
The National Law Journal: Next Wave for Abortion Law Courts, by Tony Mauro:
Judges struggle to define "undue burden" standard
Slowly but surely, a new wave of abortion-related litigation is making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, with the ultimate outcome uncertain.
A stop-and-start round of rulings and stays that blocked enforcement of new restrictions on abortion clinics in Texas last week was just the latest sign that, 41 years after Roe v. Wade, courts are still grappling with the issue. . . .
The National Law Journal (Op-Ed): Rulings Illuminate Abortion Standard, by Caitlin Borgmann:
With scant guidance from Supreme Court, lower courts are grappling with "undue burden" test
Onerous restrictions on abortion facilities are prompting lower courts to sit up and take notice. Late last month, federal judges in Texas and Louisiana blocked such laws from taking effect, at least temporarily.
Some courts, in evaluating the constitutionality of these laws, are interpreting the governing undue-burden standard — the U.S. Supreme Court's governing standard for the constitutionality of abortion regulations — in new ways that meaningfully consider the facts and purposes underlying the laws, as well as their real-world effects. The Supreme Court justices would do well to adopt these interpretations when they finally address one of these restrictions. . . .
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Cornerstone: Contraception: A Prescription for Women's Equality, by Kara Loewentheil:
One of the few mercies of the Supreme Court's opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Inc. last month was its acceptance of the Government's argument that access to contraception is indeed a compelling governmental interest (see pages 39-40 of the majority opinion). Justice Kennedy's concurrence (see pages 2-3), in particular, stressed that this vote for the majority's holding hinged on his belief that the government could achieve its compelling interest in a different manner without burdening the rights of the women whose contraceptive access would be affected. But we should not be too sanguine about this aspect of the holding, because it too is under attack. . . .
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
The New York Times: Justices’ Rulings Advance Gays; Women Less So, by Adam Liptak:
When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reflects on the Supreme Court’s recent rulings, she sees an inconsistency.
In its gay rights rulings, she told a law school audience last week, the court uses the soaring language of “equal dignity” and has endorsed the fundamental values of “liberty and equality.” Indeed, a court that just three decades ago allowed criminal prosecutions for gay sex now speaks with sympathy for gay families and seems on the cusp of embracing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
But in cases involving gender, she said, the court has never fully embraced “the ability of women to decide for themselves what their destiny will be.” She said the court’s five-justice conservative majority, all men, did not understand the challenges women face in achieving authentic equality. . . .
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Does Hobby Lobby Open Door To Renewed Conscience-Based Claims for Exemptions from Abortion Restrictions?
MSNBC: Satanists Aren't the Only Ones Following Hobby Lobby's Lead, by Irin Carmon:
On Monday, the Satanic Temple drew headlines for declaring that, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, it was “asserting a religious exemption from the burden of state mandated ‘informational’ abortion materials for those who share their deeply held beliefs.”
In other words, they wanted a conscience clause from laws intended to dissuade women from having abortions by mandating an ultrasound or that a doctor impart biased or medically-inaccurate information about abortion. . . .
But the Satanists are hardly the first to use religion to make an affirmative argument for reproductive rights. For decades, pro-choice activists have been trying to make a religious claim for their view – and generally failing. . . .
But now that the Supreme Court has opened the door to more robust religious exemptions under RFRA, there might be a new opportunity for supporters of abortion rights to try their luck. . . .
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
New York City Restriction on Abortion Protest, Mentioned by Supreme Court, Appears Largely Ineffective
The New York Times: New York’s Abortion Protest Law Is Praised by Justices, but Few Others, by Benjamin Mueller:
A crowd of abortion opponents converged on Zena Khan outside of the Choices Women’s Medical Center in Jamaica, Queens, on a recent Saturday. As a blurred mustard sun broke through the morning haze, Ms. Khan sped past posters depicting dismembered fetuses, flip cameras trained on her face and protesters demanding that she get back in her car and leave. . . .
“Should I call the cops?” she asked the escorts, her hands flying like agitated birds around her head. “I’m not even pregnant.” . . .
To the unfamiliar observer, the scene, repeated almost every Saturday morning at Choices and other clinics that perform abortions in New York City, would appear to be nothing so much as unbridled chaos. But it is also seen as one model for how abortion protests in the United States should be managed. . . .
Wednesday, July 16, 2014