Saturday, March 30, 2019
New York Times (Mar. 28, 2019): Opinion: The Flood of Court Cases That Threaten Abortion, by Linda Greenhouse:
Within the next few weeks, Linda Greenhouse writes, a challenge to Louisiana’s abortion law will arrive at the Supreme Court as a formal appeal. Louisiana requires that doctors who perform abortions in the state "do the impossible by getting admitting privileges in local hospitals." The law, she writes, is “substantially similar” to the Texas law the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016, and yet the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit "implausibly upheld the Louisiana law nonetheless."
A majority of the Fifth Circuit is at war with the Supreme Court’s abortion precedents, writes Greenhouse, and was even before the Trump administration filled five vacancies on the appeals court. The Trump-appointed judges "clearly understand their marching orders": one of those judges, James C. Ho, wrote in a published opinion on “the moral tragedy of abortion,” a gratuitous comment that Greenhouse says "served to make him stand out from the crowd."
Meanwhile, Chief Judge Ed Carnes of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit began his opinion striking down an Alabama law that criminalizes the procedure most commonly used to terminate a pregnancy in the second trimester: “Some Supreme Court justices have been of the view that there is constitutional law and then there is the aberration of constitutional law relating to abortion. If so, what we must apply here is the aberration.” In a footnote to his 36-page opinion, Judge Carnes refused to call doctors who perform abortions either “doctors” or “physicians,” noting that “some people” regarded those designations “as inapposite, if not oxymoronic in the abortion context.” He called them “practitioners.” He also described the constitutional right to abortion as something the Supreme Court had decided to “bestow on women.”
Alabama has appealed the decision, Harris v. West Alabama Women’s Center, to the Supreme Court, noting in its brief that eight other states have enacted the same law. The justices will consider in mid-April whether to hear the case.
Greenhouse, in her decades of reporting on the federal judiciary, says that she cannot "remember seeing such expressions of outright contempt for the Supreme Court. In this age of norm-collapse, something has been unleashed here."
In another appeal pending before the Supreme Court, this one from Indiana, the Seventh Circuit struck down a law that makes it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion if the patient wants to terminate her pregnancy because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome or “any other disability.”
In an opinion concurring with the majority decision, Judge Daniel Manion accused the Supreme Court of making abortion “a more untouchable right than even the freedom of speech.” While the outcome of this case was “compelled,” he said, “it is at least time to downgrade abortion to the same status as actual constitutional rights.”
Indiana’s appeal, Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, arrived at the Supreme Court in October. The justices have taken it up at their private conference eight times and will consider it again at the conference scheduled this Friday.
Greenhouse is most concerned by the recent Sixth Circuit decision, where that court upheld an Ohio law that bars state public health money from going to any organization that performs abortions, namely Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of H.I.V. testing in Cleveland, Akron and Canton. It performs abortions at three of its 27 clinics in the state.
Writing for the court, Judge Jeffrey Sutton found that Planned Parenthood had no right to invoke the doctrine of unconstitutional conditions because while women have a right to obtain abortions, neither Planned Parenthood nor any other abortion provider has the right to perform them.
Greenhouse concludes that she doesn’t "know whether Planned Parenthood will appeal the Ohio decision, Planned Parenthood v. Hodges."
"It’s received little attention — not surprisingly. As framed by the appeals court, it’s not the kind of issue that sends culture warriors to the barricades. But there’s no chance that the justices will miss its significance. Is it the small-target case they have been waiting for? Could be."