Thursday, December 31, 2015
Mother Jones (Dec. 30, 2016): This Year, States Took the War on Uteruses to the Next Level, by Becca Andrews:
According to a year-end report released by the Center for Reproductive Rights, nearly 400 anti-abortion bills were introduced across the country in 2015, up from 335 provisions introduced in 2014. The bills ranged from regulation of medication abortions to all-out bans on the most common method of second-trimester abortions, and the Guttmacher Institute reports 57 of them were enacted.
The laws passed by state legislatures included restrictions on medication abortion, bans on procedures for second-trimester abortions, waiting periods, parental consent requirements, and bans on abortion after 20 weeks.
Wednesday, December 30, 2015
RH Reality Check (Dec. 23, 2015): California Crisis Pregnancy Centers Dealt a Double Blow in Court, by Nicole Knight Shine:
Two federal judges declined to grant a preliminary injunction to block California's new reproductive disclosure law. The California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) requires that pregnancy-related clinics provide notice about access to abortion and birth control. The law is designed to address crisis pregnancy centers (CPC), which discourage patients from having an abortion by lying to women about their options:
Passed by a Democrat-led legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) in October, the Reproductive FACT Act, or AB 775, was enacted to regulate pregnancy-related clinics, including the nearly 350 CPCs that operate in the Golden State, according to a directory by the CPC umbrella group Heartbeat International. . . . Backers of AB 775 cited a recent undercover report by NARAL Pro-Choice California that found CPCs routinely lie about the physical and psychological risks of ending a pregnancy and delay a patient’s decision until abortion is no longer an option.
The two lawsuits challenging FACT were brought by CPCs arguing that the law violated their rights to freedom of speech, assembly and free exercise of religion. Judges in the Northern and Eastern Districts of California declined to grant a preliminary injunction. Judge Kimberly Mueller stated that "enjoining the act would interfere wight eh public interest regarding the health of state residents." Similar disclosure laws "have been met with mixed success in court." According to the article ordinances in New York City and Baltimore have been struck down while a San Francisco ordinance requiring pregnancy-related centers to tell the truth in advertisements survived a federal court challenge this year. FACT will go into effect in California on January 1, 2016.
Saturday, December 26, 2015
New York Times (Dec. 19, 2015): The Reproductive Rights Rollback of 2015:
The New York Times reports that no fewer than 288 restrictions on abortion have been enacted since 2011. These include the familiar targeted regulation of abortion providers scheduled for review next year by the Supreme Court. But abortion is being attacked in other ways as well, including extensions of waiting periods, mandated in-person counseling necessitating two separate trips to an abortion provider, and bans on inexpensive medical abortions. Against the backdrop of the forceful move in many states to de-fund Planned Parenthood, the only reproductive health provider for millions of poor women, these efforts reflect an attempt not only to unduly burden but indeed to obliterate entirely every woman's right to manage her reproductive life.
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
New York Times (Dec. 23, 2015): Utah: Judge Says State Can Block Funding for Planned Parenthood:
A judge ruled Tuesday that Utah can cut off federal funds to Planned Parenthood, a move that Gov. Gary R. Herbert, a Republican, ordered after the release of secretly recorded videos by an anti-abortion group. The ruling, by Judge Clark Waddoups of Federal District Court in Salt Lake City, reversed a temporary order that the money keep flowing while the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah pursues its lawsuit against the state. Mr. Herbert stopped about $275,000 in federal funds for sex education and for tests for sexually transmitted diseases. Judge Waddoups said that even though the Utah group had not engaged in wrongdoing, it was affiliated with other Planned Parenthood entities “that have allegedly engaged in illegal conduct.”
New York Times (Dec. 23, 2015): With In Vitro Fertilization, Persistence Pays Off, Study Suggests, by Catherine Saint Louis:
Doctors have long thought that after three or four failed rounds of in vitro fertilization, the prospect of a patient becoming pregnant are grim. But a study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association calls into question the received wisdom. The study finds "that nearly two-thirds of women undergoing I.V.F. will have a child by the sixth attempt, suggesting that persistence can pay off, especially for women under 40." Indeed, there appears to be a modest increase in the cumulative rate for live births up to the ninth IVF cycle. Few patients can afford, however, that many cycles of IVF, which cost $12,400 each on average. And risks such as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome must be taken into account, as must the shattering emotional toll of failed cycles.
Friday, December 18, 2015
New York Times (Dec. 17, 2015): Judge Leaves Northern Ireland's Abortion Law to Lawmakers:
A Belfast judge declined to modify Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws on Wednesday, saying that only lawmakers had the authority to bring the current legislation in line with European human rights laws.
Judge Mark Horner of the Northern Ireland High Court said that ordering changes to allow abortions in the case of a fatal fetal abnormality, rape or incest to conform with the European Convention of Human Rights Act of 2003 would be “a step too far.”
His decision, which reinforces a previous ruling he made last month, puts the responsibility firmly on the local assembly to resolve the matter, though it does not compel lawmakers to do so.
Unlike other parts of the United Kingdom, the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply to Northern Ireland, where abortion is illegal other than in cases where the life or mental health of the mother is in danger.
Under the 1861 Offenses Against The Person Act, a person convicted of performing an illegal termination faces a sentence of life in prison.
The government is expected to appeal the initial ruling.
Thursday, December 17, 2015
New York Times (Dec. 14 & 15, 2015): Disposal of Fetal Tissue Debated in Court, Ohio Statehouse and Ohio: Legal Fight on Fetal Disposal:
A federal judge in Ohio has temporarily blocked state officials from taking legal action against Planned Parenthood to enforce a rule governing the disposal of fetal tissue. The order, issued Monday by Judge Edmund Sargus Jr., came in a dispute over how Planned Parenthood handles fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood is suing Ohio’s health director, claiming that the state’s health department changed the interpretation of the disposal rule without notice and then unfairly targeted its three affiliates that provide abortions.
The change in the rule's interpretation came on the heels of an investigation of Planned Parenthood by the Ohio Attorney General that found no evidence that Planned Parenthood made money from aborted fetuses. Planned Parenthood of Ohio claims it has scrupulously followed the law on fetal disposal. The next hearing in the dispute will take place on January 4th.
Monday, December 14, 2015
Reuters (Dec. 10, 2015): Sierra Leone legalizes abortion, will save 'countless lives' - activists, by Kiernan Guilbert:
Sierra Leone has passed the Safe Abortion Act which legalizes abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. After 12 weeks, abortion will only be allowed in cases of rape, incest or risk to the health of fetus or mother. The Act, which has yet to be signed by President Ernest Bai Koroma, will replace an 1861 law which banned abortion except when necessary to save the pregnant woman's life. According to the article:
Around one in 70 women in Sierra Leone dies during or shortly after childbirth, the World Health Organization said.
One-third of these deaths are the result of complications from unsafe abortions, often carried out by untrained people in unhygienic and dangerous surroundings, campaigners say.
The Act was passed five months after Sierra Leone ratified the Maputo Protocol, the African regional women's human rights treaty. The law is expected to have a significant impact on victims of sexual violence and rape.
Sunday, December 13, 2015
New York Times (Dec. 12, 2015): Ohio: Objection to Disposal Practices at Planned Parenthood Clinics, by Tamar Lewin:
An investigation into whether three Planned Parenthood clinics had improperly sold fetal tissue found that they had not, but said that they disposed of aborted fetuses improperly by turning them over to disposal companies that take the remains to landfills, the state attorney general, Mike DeWine, said Friday. Mr. DeWine said that sending aborted fetuses to a landfill was “callous and completely inhumane” and violated a state administrative code requirement that fetuses be disposed of “in a humane manner.” He referred his findings to the Ohio Department of Health, which oversees abortion clinics. Stephanie Kight, the president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, issued a statement calling the accusations “inflammatory and baseless.” She said Planned Parenthood “handles medical tissue like any other quality health care provider. Our agreements with vendors all require them to follow state law, and dispose of tissue accordingly. If they are not, then I will take swift action.” Ms. Kight said she was concerned that the attorney general’s report was “not the result of meaningful investigation, but instead yet another attack on women’s access to health care in the state of Ohio.”
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
Abortion and the Supreme Court, by Richard A. Epstein, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law, New York University School of Law
In his recent remarks at the What’s the Harm? conference, captured here and in a blog post at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution web site, Professor Richard Epstein explains why he believes the Supreme Court, having granted certiorari, should reverse the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole. In that decision, the appeals court upheld the Texas regulations that have drastically reduced the availability of abortion in the Lone Star State. Epstein would have the Court “scrap any rational basis test that allows state legislatures to paper over their improper motivation with high-sounding statements of lofty legislative purposes.”
Epstein criticizes the Fifth Circuit for having given “undue credit to legislative wisdom” and for having made the availability of out-of-state abortions a reason for giving the Texas regulations a pass. The court made plain it was employing a watered-down version of the rational basis test. Epstein objects to the use of this test “to eviscerate the painful compromises wrought in [Planned Parenthood v. Casey].”
Epstein does this even though he has long had profound misgivings about the soundness of Roe v. Wade, which he wrote about as long ago as 1973: Richard A. Epstein, "Substantive Due Process by Any Other Name: The Abortion Cases," 1973 Supreme Court Review 159 (1973). But at this point the debate is no longer about how to squeeze out the right of abortion from the Due Process Clause. It is about whether to reverse course some 42 years after the earlier decision was made. That might well be appropriate with a forthright opinion, which comes from the Supreme Court, although it is highly risky to upset a long-established constitutional balance. What is not acceptable is to overrule a decision in the guise of interpreting it, which is what is done when the rational basis test is invoked to insulate the decisions of the Texas legislature from any serious scrutiny.
This rise of the rational basis test did not originate with cases dealing with personal liberties, but with those dealing with questions of property rights. Epstein traces the appeals court’s deference to any “conceivable” legislative purpose to Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff, where the Supreme Court validated Hawaii’s plan to dismantle the “economic evils of a land oligopoly” that, according to Epstein, never truly existed. He traces the appeals court’s invocation of out-of-Texas alternatives to abortion to Ruckelshaus v. Monsanto Co., where the Court reasoned that a law requiring manufacturers to disclose data in connection with the production of pesticides did not effect a taking because Monsanto could avoid the requirement by selling its pesticides only in foreign markets.
Epstein urges those who would criticize the Fifth Circuit’s decision to be consistent. If we believe that the rational basis test was inappropriately invoked in Whole Woman’s Health, we should not complain that, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Court refused to use it in evaluating a mandate that required even employers with religious objections to provide health-insurance coverage for contraception. We should not, in other words, “split the constitutional universe between those individual rights that merit serious protection and those that do not.” It is very important not to have political preferences determine the appropriate level of scrutiny in constitutional cases. In general, the right test is to give the deference associated with the business judgment rule to the government when it is in charge of running some public institution, like a school or the military. The hard choices require some deference to management expertise, although probably less than in the private sector, because the exit option is weaker with public bodies. But the higher standard does rightly apply when the government acts as a regulator as when it forces the sale of leasehold units in Midkiff, the registration of fungicides in Ruckelshaus, or the operation of private abortion clinics in Whole Woman’s Health.
Human Rights at Home Blog (Dec. 8, 2015): Abortion Providers Are Human Rights Defenders, by Cynthia Soohoo:
Has anti-choice propaganda led to an increase in violence and attacks on abortion clinics? Following the tragic attack on the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, the news has focused on the impact of videos released by the Center for Medical Progress and political rhetoric targeting Planned Parenthood. Meanwhile, the New York Times and Washington Post have published pieces trying to figure out what motivated Robert Dear, Jr.
But, regardless of how the media depicts this latest act of violence, it’s clear that there’s a long and well-documented history of attacks on abortion clinics and providers. The Colorado shooting should remind us of the dedication and bravery of abortion providers who daily face intimidation, threats and harassment designed to prevent women from accessing health services and rob them of their right to make their own reproductive rights decisions. For their work, abortion providers are often stigmatized, but they should be acknowledged as human rights defenders.
The blog quotes from articles profiling abortion providers to understand why despite physical threats, harassment and threats to their livelihood, abortion providers remain committed to providing care to women. The international community has recognized abortion providers as human rights defenders because they provide services to ensure that women can exercise their reproductive rights.
Sunday, December 6, 2015
New York Times (Dec. 4, 2015): Dominican Republic: Court Blocks on Abortion Law:
A Dominican court has blocked a new law that would have decriminalized abortions for the first time if a pregnant woman’s life was at risk, backing a complaint filed by several religious groups. The ruling issued late Wednesday by the Constitutional Tribunal cannot be appealed and upholds a law from 1884. Critics of the ruling said it would put the health of women at risk. Human rights groups estimate that nearly 85,000 clandestine abortions are performed every year in the Dominican Republic, with about 15,000 women being hospitalized in serious condition as a result. Happy Marriage, one of the groups that filed the complaint, said the law violated the Constitution, which states that the right to life begins when a couple conceive.
Friday, December 4, 2015
The Poverty of Privacy Rights, by Khiara M. Bridges, Professor of Law, Boston University
For the past year, I have been writing a book, titled The Poverty of Privacy Rights. The punch line of the book is poor mothers do not have privacy rights.
Most people who have examined poor mothers’ experiences with the state agree that they do not enjoy any privacy in any real sense of the word. The state is all around them. It is in their homes, it is in their decision making processes around whether or not to bear a child, it is monitoring them as they parent their children, it is collecting the most intimate information from them, etc. It is everywhere. In light of the fact that the state is all around poor mothers – and in light of the fact that poor mothers can not keep the state out of their lives in the way that wealthier mothers can – most scholars have argued that poor mothers have privacy rights, but their rights are weak, meaningless, or constantly violated. The book that I am writing seeks to shift the discourse. It disputes that poor mothers have privacy rights that are weak or meaningless or constantly violated. Instead, it argues that poor mothers do not have privacy rights at all.
The book proposes that poor mothers have been “informally disenfranchised” of their privacy rights. The concept of informal disenfranchisement refers to the process by which a group that has been formally bestowed with a right is stripped of that very right by techniques that the Court holds to be consistent with the Constitution. The best precedent for informal disenfranchisement is black people’s experience with voting rights. While the Fifteenth Amendment formally enfranchised black men, white supremacists in the South employed methods—poll taxes, literacy tests, residency requirements, and white primaries—that made it impossible for black men to actually vote in the South for a century after their formal enfranchisement. Moreover, the Court held that each of these techniques of racial exclusion from the polls was constitutional. This is informal disenfranchisement: the status of formally bearing a right, yet being unable to exercise that right because laws that the Court have found to be constitutional make it impossible to do so. As such, my book proposes that poor mothers have been informally disenfranchised of privacy rights.
Now, those who are committed to the belief that everyone enjoys the same rights in the U.S.—even poor mothers—might argue that the government’s interest in protecting poor mothers’ children and children-to-be from abuse and neglect overrides their rights. So, they suggest that the reason why it appears that the government can act as it would act if poor mothers’ privacy rights did not exist at all is because the government interest in protecting children invariably justifies overriding these mothers’ privacy rights.
But, we have to ask: why does the state presume that poor mothers are at risk of abusing or neglecting their children? Now, one might respond: a mother’s poverty yields the possibility that she will be unable to meet the material needs of her child. One might respond: all that the state is doing is ensuring that the indigent woman is able to meet the material needs of her child. But, the Court has authorized states to ask questions that go beyond an inquiry into whether a woman will be able to provide food, clothing, and shelter for her child. The Court has authorized states to enter poor women’s homes just to make sure that they are not lying about their eligibility for public assistance benefits. The Court has authorized states to coerce women to avoid motherhood via family caps on public benefits. The Court has authorized states to coerce women into motherhood via prohibitions on the spending of Medicaid funds on abortion. The state’s surveillance goes beyond ensuring that poor mothers are able to meet the basic needs of their child. Instead, it amounts to a blanket surveillance of poor mothers.
It is worth noting, early and often, that wealthier women engage in the same behaviors in which poor women engage. Wealthier women cohabit with men to whom they are not married. Wealthier women smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol while pregnant. They, too, have histories of sexual and domestic violence. They, too, have unplanned pregnancies. They, too, find themselves pregnant after being in relatively short relationships with the fathers of their babies. Yet, no state has erected an extravagant bureaucratic tool with which it can take an accounting of every non-poor pregnant woman. And the point of my new book is to argue that, if a state did erect this extravagant bureaucratic tool with which it can take an accounting of non-poor pregnant women, it would be struck down as a violation of their privacy rights.
Now, the fact that no state has attempted to erect this bureaucratic tool is telling. It suggests that the state is not really interested in protecting children from abuse and neglect. Instead, it is only interested in protecting some children from abuse and neglect. That is, the state assumes that only some children need to be protected from their mothers. And those children are the ones that are born to poor women. Now, why does the state make this assumption about poor women? It cannot be because poor women engage in problematic behaviors and have problematic histories; wealthier women do, too. It has to be because of something else. My new book argues that that “something else” is poor women’s poverty and the fact that we largely believe that most poverty in this country is a consequence of individual, bad character. We have informally disenfranchised poor mothers of privacy rights because we, as a society, do not trust individuals with bad characters – poor women, presumptively – to competently parent their children.
Thursday, December 3, 2015
Medical Harms of Abortion Restrictions, by David A. Grimes, M.D.
Enacted under the pretense of greater safety for women, oppressive abortion regulations are having a paradoxical effect: endangering American women. Few abortion opponents have the candor to admit the real goal of this epidemic of state legislation. They hope to make safe, legal abortion inaccessible and thus drive women into the back alley once again. This meets the definition of misogyny.
Abortion has been well regulated for decades
A myriad of regulations cover abortion services. However, after Planned Parenthood v. Casey opened the door to more state restrictions, the problem has become epidemic. Having provided abortions in clinics and hospitals for more than four decades, I can report that corridor width (regulated by 10 states) has no relation to safe abortion care.
No public health need exists for more regulations four decades after Roe v. Wade
Abortion remains one of the safest procedures in contemporary medical practice, and that has been true for four decades. Indeed, just two years after Roe v. Wade, the Institute of Medicine documented the public health benefits of safe, legal abortion. According to the federal government, the risk of death from abortion in recent years has been less than 1 death per 100,000 procedures. To put that in some perspective, the risk of death from an injection of penicillin is twice that high. A recent survey of complications after abortion in the state of California confirmed that emergency room visits and hospitalization after abortions are rare.
Compared to what?
The U.S. is an anomaly among developed countries in having a risk of maternal death that is rising, not falling. In the most recent federal report, the risk of death from maternal causes was 16 deaths per 100,000 live births. A comparison of abortion and childbearing risks, published in 2012, found a 14-fold higher risk with childbirth. Because of the increasing risk of childbirth, the disparity is larger today.
Despite medical advances in recent decades, pregnancy, childbirth, and the post-delivery period remain dangerous. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a woman’s risk of having one or more pregnancy-related complications is 60%. Given about 4 million births per year in the U.S., that translates into more than 2 million women suffering complications, some being long-lasting.
Delay is dangerous
As documented decades ago, one of the most powerful predictors of abortion safety is the duration of the pregnancy: the earlier the procedure, the safer. Delays of any origin, such as mandatory waiting periods, postpone care to later, more dangerous stages of pregnancy. Studies of the impact of these laws in Texas have confirmed this harm, with delays up to three weeks. When clinics are forced to close because of draconian abortion restrictions, women are also forced into interstate travel to get care. Still others resort to dangerous attempts at self-induced abortion.
Three ethical principles provide the foundation for all health care: beneficence, autonomy, and justice. Beneficence requires that what we do to patients is in their best interests. Autonomy means free choice among available treatment options based on the best available scientific evidence. Justice means equitable access to care. Imposing gratuitous abortion restrictions violates all three criteria by increasing risks to women, limiting treatment choices, and making adequate care dependent upon one’s zip code. Regardless of one’s views of abortion, new regulations must be rejected as unethical.
Bad old days redux?
In the year that I was born, more than 700 women died in the U.S. from dangerous, clandestine abortions. The population of the nation was less than half of that today. Despite the well-documented health benefits of safe, legal abortion for women and their families, some want to return women to the back alley again. Our response as a nation must be “never again.”
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Feministing (Nov. 22, 2015): At Least 100,000 Texans of Reproductive Age Have Attempted to Self-Induce an Abortion, by Maya Dusenbery:
As the Supreme Court prepares to hear a case involving anti-choice laws that have severely restricted access to abortions in Texas, a new study shows just how devastating these laws have been. The study estimates that at least 100,000 Texans of reproductive age have attempted to end a pregnancy without medical assistance. The report comes from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, which has previously explored other consequences of the anti-choice laws that have slashed the number of clinics in the state in recent years. Today, half of Texas women now struggle to get reproductive health care and family planning services, the legal abortion rate has decreased by 13 percent, and wait times to get the procedure have increased to 20 days in some cities.
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Harvard Health and Policy Review: In Response to Anderson and George: Why Funding Planned Parenthood Respects Life, by Priscilla J. Smith:
Priscilla Smith has authored a response to a recent blog posted in the Harvard Health and Policy Review by Ryan Anderson and Robert George entitled “Government Should Not Fund Organizations that Kill Innocent Human Beings.” Anderson and George argue that Planned Parenthood should not be eligible for public funding even if no federal dollars go to abortions because “No matter how beneficial the other services they provide may be to a community, their participation in the unjust ending of innocent human lives should prevent them from receiving any governmental funding.”
In response Smith points out that “arguments to defund Planned Parenthood are counterproductive and illogical, even from an anti-abortion viewpoint, because defunding would undermine safe attempts to lower rates of abortion,” and those seeking to reduce abortion should seek to increase, not cut off, funding of Planned Parenthood’s contraceptive services.
Smith suggests that Anderson and George’s opposition to Planned Parenthood reflects a broader opposition to contraception and non-procreative sex:
Moreover, while anti-abortion sentiment clearly fuels much of the authors’ antipathy towards the organization, the attacks on Planned Parenthood are part of a broader attack, an attack aimed at contraception in addition to abortion. This broad attack is grounded in moral opposition to non-procreative sex, and elevates concern for “preborn life” over concern for the health of born, living humans.
She warns that this view “leads to a loss of perspective on the relationship between unborn and born life [and] illogical and callous arguments, like those being made to condemn Planned Parenthood and remove a vital source of health care for many in need.”