Saturday, November 23, 2019

SCOTUS Will Hear An Abortion Rights Case With Major Implications

Bustle (Nov. 13, 2019): SCOTUS Will Hear An Abortion Rights Case With Major Implications, by Jo Yurcaba:

The Supreme Court of the United States will hear the Louisiana abortion case June Medical Services v. Gee. The case was appealed from the 5th Circuit by June Medical and challenges a state law that will require abortion-providing clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Louisiana, in the course of the appeal, also seeks the have the Court overturn "third-party standing" precedent. This long-standing rule allows clinics and providers to sue on behalf of their patients. Without such a rule, many pregnant persons would not choose to lose their anonymity by filing a case or else may not have the means to pursue comparable litigation in defense of their rights.

Anti-abortion activists and lawmakers hope to eliminate third-party standing as a way to keep challenges to abortion restrictions out of courts in the first place. Should the court strike down the validity of third-party standing, it may also call into question prior abortion precedent--including 1973's landmark Roe v. Wade--which was won without a direct patient-plaintiff.

Third-party standing was established just three years after Roe. Justice Blackmun at the time held that physicians have a unique ability to speak for their patients, stating that the physician is particularly qualified "to litigate the constitutionality of the State's interference with, or discrimination against" a person's abortion rights. Blackmun specifically acknowledged the gamut of challenges those facing abortions face. Experts cite, for example, that half of all women who get abortions are low-income and certainly cannot match the resources of their abortion providers in defending their rights.

Travis J. Tu, Senior Counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, is arguing the June Medical Services case before SCOTUS and says that overturning third-party standing could "take a wrecking ball to 40 years of abortion jurisprudence." 

June Medical Services echoes a prior case SCOTUS decided in 2016: Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt. Hellerstedt ruled that Texas' House Bill 2, which attempted to implement similar targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP), was unconstitutional and placed an undue burden on persons seeking abortion access. 

Despite the 2016 decision in Hellerstedt, the 5th Circuit decided against precedent, upholding the Louisiana law. 

Proponents of laws imposing admitting privileges generally justify them on the purported ground that they protect the health of pregnant persons seeking abortions. In reality, many hospitals will not grant admitting privileges, because they are not necessary. 

TRAP regulations at their core are intended by anti-abortion activists to regulate abortions out of legal existence. Like the law at issue in June Medical, TRAP regulations generally require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, but they may also impose other requirements, including that abortions only be provided in certain, costly, far-more-complicated facilities than is reasonably necessary. The intended effect of TRAP laws is the same: severely limiting, if not outright abolishing, any clinics or providers who can legally offer abortions. 

If the Louisiana law is upheld, June Medical Services will be the only remaining abortion-providing clinic in the state after two others are regulated out of existence. The eventual decision in June Medical will bring comparable consequences, whichever way it goes, for the many pending cases challenging similar abortion-restricting laws around the country. 

November 23, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Current Affairs, In the Courts, Politics, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Supreme Court, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 22, 2019

Mexico's Supreme Court Affirms Abortion Access as Right

Reprohealthlaw Blog Commentaries (Oct. 31, 2019): The Mexican Supreme Court's latest abortion ruling: In between formalities, a path to decriminalization, by Estefanía Vela Barba: 

In Mexico's Supreme Court's latest abortion ruling, issued earlier this year, the justices of the First Chamber found that denying a woman access to abortion when her health may be at risk is unlawful, violating her right to health codified in the San Salvador Protocol and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).  

The San Salvador Protocol is an additional protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights that expands on the original protections of economic, social, and cultural rights referenced in the American Convention. In General Comment No. 14, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights interpreted Article 12 of the ICESCR to affirm the right to individual autonomy regarding one's own health decisions and the right to attain the highest standard of health.

The Mexican Court relied on these international instruments in tandem with their constitution to emphasize that the right to health includes the right to access the "full range of facilities, goods, services, and conditions" necessary to execute one's health decisions and attain the highest possible level of health. 

The Court held that Mexico's General Health Law, which does not "explicitly contemplate access to abortion," must be interpreted in a way that is compatible with the internationally-codified right to health. The Court further understood that health holistically encompasses physical, mental, and social well-being "as defined by each individual."  The decision, furthermore, referred to abortion as a "therapeutic intervention." The denial of such an intervention is a denial of a woman's right to health, the Court said. 

The case is also important in that it had to overcome the procedural challenges of an amparo proceeding. An amparo proceeding is meant as a guarantee of an individual's Constitutional rights and can generally only be brought under particular circumstances once all means of appeal have been exhausted. Essentially, the purpose of amparo suits is "to stop or reverse an unjust ruling."

In Mexican case law, the amparo suits tend to be interpreted quite narrowly, limiting its availability in denial-of-abortion cases, since the resolution of the lawsuit nearly always takes significantly longer than the duration of a full-term pregnancy. 

Here, the plaintiff had already successfully sought her abortion in Mexico City, and the district court in Mexico held that the suit should not reach the merits, because "the subject matter of the government action being challenged ceased to exist" once the plaintiff obtained her abortion. 

The Mexican Supreme Court, though, on appeal, applied the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to find that it must adopt a more liberal interpretation of the bounds of this amparo suit in order to account for the disparate impact of the apparently "gender-neutral" provisions allowing for such lawsuits. The Court found that denying Jane Doe's case based on the procedural limitations of amparo alone would "hinder women's right to access justice in practically everything related to pregnancies, including their termination." 

While the Court did not address the interplay with the Mexican Criminal Code and General Health Law as it related to abortion services and focused primarily on the implementation of the General Health Law, many abortion-rights activists consider this ruling a progressive step forward for the country. 

November 22, 2019 in Abortion, In the Courts, International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Judge Voids Trump-Backed 'Conscience Rule' for Health Workers

The New York Times (Nov. 6, 2019): Judge Voids Trump-Backed 'Conscience Rule' for Health Workers, by Benjamin Weiser and Margot Sanger-Katz: 

The Trump administration's "conscience rule" aimed to provide a way for health care providers to refuse to assist with abortion or other medical procedures on the basis of their religious or moral beliefs. The rule furthermore would've empowered these providers to refuse to give patients seeking care any referral to a willing provider. The rule attempted to coalesce dozens of separate laws, including those related to abortion and end-of-life care, into a singular framework.

It was scheduled to go into effect later this month, but a federal judge on Wednesday, November 6 voided the rule in a 147-page opinion. In his decision, Judge Paul A. Engelmayer said that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) did not have the authority to implement much of the rule. He further found that the HHS's purported purpose behind the rule was "factually untrue."

The agency claimed that the rule was meant to address an alleged "significant increase" in conscience complaints received by HHS--that is, complaints by health care workers who wished not to perform or participate in certain procedures. Judge Engelmayer, though, found that of the 358 complaints HHS claimed to receive during the identified period, only about 20 were true, unique, and relevant to the law at issue.

Opponents of the rule, including Planned Parenthood, one of the plaintiffs in the case, lauded the decision, saying it prevented the Trump administration from "providing legal cover for discrimination." 

In addition to Planned Parenthood, the other plaintiffs included 19 states, three cities, a county, and an additional reproductive health care provider. This was only one of several parallel cases filed throughout the country.

HHS and the Justice Department are reviewing the decision as they consider whether to appeal.

November 13, 2019 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, Culture, Current Affairs, In the Courts, Medical News, Politics, President/Executive Branch, Reproductive Health & Safety, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Alabama abortion law temporarily blocked by federal judge

The Washington Post (Oct. 29, 2019): Alabama abortion law temporarily blocked by federal judge by, Ariana Eunjung Cha and Emily Wax-Thibodeaux:

A federal district court in Alabama blocked the state's extremist abortion ban, passed in May, earlier this week. The law would almost entirely proscribe the termination of a pregnancy in Alabama, including in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. The single exception to to the ban would be in the case of serious risk to the life of the pregnant person.

Alabama state representative Terri Collins--the author of the bill--has framed the law as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, and stated in response to the preliminary injunction that this decision "'is merely the first of many steps'" in the anti-abortion movement's "effort to preserve unborn life." Rep. Collins aims for challenges to the law to make it to the Supreme Court and called this week's ruling "both expected and welcomed" on the journey to SCOTUS.

Judge Myron H. Thompson, who penned the decision out of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, "wrote that it violates Supreme Court precedent and 'defies' the Constitution."

The Alabama law joins eight other states' blocked attempts at restricting abortion access unconstitutionally. 

October 31, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Current Affairs, In the Courts, Politics, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 7, 2019

Dutch Doctor Provides Abortion Pills to U.S. Women, Sues FDA

Fortune (Sept. 19, 2019): "A Doctor Who Prescribes Abortion Pills to U.S. Women Online is Suing the FDA. Is She Breaking the Law?", by Erin Corbett:

Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, a physician licensed to practice medicine in Europe, launched the website Aid Access in 2018 in order to meet the growing need for accessible abortion care in the U.S.

Patients seeking to end a pregnancy in its early stages through the use of the medications misoprostol and mifepristone can complete an online consultation form on Aid Access about their pregnancy and general health. Dr. Gomperts prescribes the medication to patients so long as they are "healthy, less than 10 weeks pregnant, and live within an hour's distance of a hospital in case of emergency."

Medical abortion is an FDA-approved method to end a pregnancy, and studies have found that independently managing an abortion using misoprostol and mifepristone pills is both safe and effective.

"There is no evidence that home-based medical abortion is less effective, safe or acceptable than clinic-based medical abortion,” reads one study from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The two pills work in combination to terminate a pregnancy in the first 12 weeks. Together, they are over 96% effective, and using misoprostol on its own is more than 80% effective in the first trimester. 

Dr. Gomperts emphasizes that the science supports the safety of medication abortions, including those done entirely by the women seeking the abortion themselves (in some cases, women may go to a clinic to physically receive the medication; in others, like here, women are prescribed the medications remotely, which are then mailed to them). "All medical abortions are self-managed," though, Dr. Gomperts says. "Women that go to a clinic and get the pill and have their miscarriage at home—it’s exactly the same procedure if they get the pills online.”

In the wake of the confirmation of right-wing, anti-choice Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, along with the slew of extreme state-level restrictions on abortion access in recent years, Dr. Gomperts found that patients reaching out to her were seeking her help not only because they wanted an abortion but because they didn't know where else to get help or even information on any local health services available to them.

Dr. Gomperts received inquiries from over 40,000 women between March 2018 and August 2019. She prescribed the two abortion medications to just over 7,000 of those persons. The majority of the requests came from women living in abortion-hostile states with strict laws, like Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. Dr. Gomperts has consulted with women in all 50 states.

While several states have laws that criminalize any self-managed abortions, all of these statutes "pre-date Roe, likely making them unconstitutional," Erin Corbett, author of the Fortune article, says. They've been applied against pregnant persons nonetheless. 

On September 9th, Dr. Gomperts and her attorneys filed a lawsuit in federal court in Idaho against the FDA and other federal officials, claiming that they illegally confiscated "between three and 10 'individual doses of misoprostol and mifepristone' that Dr. Gomperts had prescribed to patients since March." 

The FDA claims that her practice "'poses an inherent risk to consumers who purchase'" these medications.

Dr. Gomperts asserts several claims for relief under both the Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act. Prosecuting Dr. Gomperts or her patients would violate their rights to liberty, privacy, and equal protection under the Fifth Amendment, the lawsuit claims.

October 7, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, In the Courts, International, Medical News, Politics, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Medication abortion reversal is "devoid of scientific support," judge rules in North Dakota

Sept. 10, 2019 (CBS News): Medication abortion reversal is "devoid of scientific support," judge rules in North Dakota, by Kate Smith: 

Legislators in North Dakota recently mandated physicians tell patients who are receiving medication abortions that the procedure may be reversed. North Dakota House Bill 1336 bases its text "on a pair of studies that have been contested by The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology." 

Judge Daniel Hovland, on Tuesday, September 10, issued a 24-page decision granting an injunction against the bill, which he said is "devoid of scientific support, misleading, and untrue." Further elaborating that:

'State legislatures should not be mandating unproven medical treatments, or requiring physicians to provide patients with misleading and inaccurate information...The provisions of [Bill 1336] violate a physician's right not to speak and go far beyond any informed consent laws addressed by the United States Supreme Court, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, or other courts to date.'

The lawsuit against the Bill was filed by the American Medical Association and Red River Women's Clinic. Red River is North Dakota's only legal abortion provider. According to research conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, people seeking abortions in the state must, in addition to very likely traveling long distances to reach the clinic, "undergo a state-mandated 24-hour waiting period." Minors may not receive an abortion in North Dakota without notifying their parents, and the state limits the ways a private insurance provider may cover the procedure. 

A separate North Dakota state law "requires physicians to tell patients that abortion terminates 'the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.'" The AMA and Red River suit also challenges this law, but the court has not yet addressed this claim, thus far only issuing the preliminary injunction against House Bill 1336.

September 12, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Fetal Rights, In the Courts, Mandatory Delay/Biased Information Laws, Medical News, Politics, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

UK Appeal court overturns forced abortion ruling

Jun. 24, 2019 (The Guardian): Appeal court overturns forced abortion ruling, by Harriet Sherwood: 

An appeals court in the UK overturned a recent decision by the court of protection in London, which had ordered a young pregnant woman to have an abortion against her wishes. 

The pregnant woman is in her twenties and suffers from learning and mood disorders, such that her mental capacity is akin to that of a "six to nine-year-old child."

There is no public information as to how the woman got pregnant and a police investigation is ongoing. In the meantime, the woman--now 22-weeks pregnant--and her mother  both wish for the pregnancy to continue and her mother intends to care for the child once born. A social worker agrees that the pregnancy should be allowed to continue. 

Three medical professionals, including one obstetrician and two psychiatrists, with England's National Health Service initiated the legal challenges when they sought permission from the court to terminate the pregnancy.

The court that ordered the termination originally stated that its decision was in the best interests of the woman. The woman's mother, a former midwife, appealed the decision. The appeals court is expected to provide their rationale at a later date. 

Abortions may be performed up to 24 weeks in a pregnancy under Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act.

June 26, 2019 in Abortion, In the Courts, International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Missouri’s lone abortion clinic must remain open for now

Jun. 10, 2019 (Politico): Judge says Missouri’s lone abortion clinic must remain open for now, by Rachana Pradhan: 

On Monday, a judge blocked Missouri's attempts to close its last remaining abortion clinic. Planned Parenthood, which operates the clinic, has struggled against state officials' attempts to shutter the clinic based on claims of violations, which jeopardize its licensing.

Judge Michael Stelzer had previously granted the Planned Parenthood clinic reprieve from the states' attempts to deny license renewal upon the clinic's license lapse in May, and Stelzer has now directed Missouri health officials to make a decision as to whether to renew the clinic's license by June 21.

Planned Parenthood officials attest that the licensing conditions were essentially pretextual and "accused state officials of orchestrating a politically motivated probe to stamp out abortion." Last month, Missouri lawmakers banned almost all abortions beyond week eight of a pregnancy.  

Missouri is just one of six U.S. states that have only one clinic providing abortions.

June 13, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Current Affairs, In the Courts, In the Media, Politics, Pro-Choice Movement, Reproductive Health & Safety, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Botswana's High Court Decriminalizes Gay Sex

Jun. 11, 2019 (The New York Times): Botswana's High Court Decriminalizes Gay Sex, by Kimon de Greef:

A three-judge panel in the capital of Botswana voted unanimously to overturn a colonial-era law banning gay sex in the country. 

"'Human dignity is harmed when minority groups are marginalized,' Judge Michael Leburu said as he delivered the judgment, adding that laws that banned gay sex were 'discriminatory.'"

"Homosexuality has been illegal in Botswana since the late 1800s, when the territory, then known as Bechuanaland, was under British rule." The penal code outlawed “unnatural offenses,” defined as “carnal knowledge against the order of nature.” Violations of this law could result in seven years in prison; a five-year sentence could be imposed just for attempting to have gay sex or engage in any other "homosexual acts." 

The court had the opportunity to strike down the law, because an anonymous gay plaintiff challenged the law's constitutionality. The court had previously upheld Botswana's discriminatory laws in the face of a prior 2003 challenge. 

Last year, India similarly struck down its anti-gay statutory vestiges of colonialsm. 

Unfortunately, other African countries like Kenya have decided the opposite way, upholding laws that criminalize sexuality.

Homophobia is widely entrenched on the continent, with gay sex outlawed in more than 30 countries. In several northern African nations, including Somalia and Sudan, homosexuality is punishable by death; offenders in Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda face life in prison.

Even in countries like South Africa with progressive gay rights legislation, the African continent continues to find "widespread rejection" of homosexuality.

Nonetheless, gay rights groups and LGBTQ activists in Botswana celebrate the historical moment this week that came with the High Court's decision.

June 12, 2019 in Culture, In the Courts, International, Politics, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Flood of Court Cases That Threaten Abortion

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."

March 30, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, In the Courts, Politics, President/Executive Branch, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Sixth Circuit En Banc Majority Rules Ohio Can Defund Planned Parenthood

Politico (Mar. 12, 2019): Appeals court rules Ohio can defund Planned Parenthood, by Alice Miranda Ollstein:

In an en banc opinion issued Tuesday, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Ohio may cut state funding to Planned Parenthood because the organization performs abortions, overturning a lower court ruling that blocked the state from stripping about $1.5 million of annual support from the network of clinics.

The Sixth Circuit's ruling affects six state public health programs in Ohio, but doesn't touch Medicaid. The Supreme Court in December declined to review a case brought by other Republican-led states seeking to cut off Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health organizations that offer abortions.

Four of the eleven Sixth Circuit judges who sided with Ohio in Tuesday's decision were appointed by President Donald Trump. The judges said Ohio’s law barring state health department funding from going to any provider who offers “non-therapeutic abortions” or advocates for abortion rights, “does not violate the Constitution because the affiliates do not have a" substantive "due process right" under the Fourteenth Amendment "to perform abortions."

In her dissent, Judge Helene White and five of her colleagues argued that the state’s law “would result in an undue burden on a woman’s right to obtain non-therapeutic abortions if imposed directly.”

The opinion is available here.

March 12, 2019 in Abortion, In the Courts, State and Local News, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Alaska Supreme Court upholds decision blocking restrictions on Medicaid funding for abortions

Jurist (Feb. 18, 2018): Alaska Supreme Court upholds decision blocking restrictions on Medicaid funding for abortions, by Jordan Ross:

The Alaska Supreme Court last week upheld a prior decision preventing the implementation of a 2013 regulation limiting Medicaid coverage of abortion in the state to circumstances either covered by the Hyde Act or deemed medically necessary by a physician.

The Hyde Amendment is a 1976 legislative provision that proscribes the use of federal funds to pay for an abortion except when necessary to save the life of the pregnant person or if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. 

The lawsuit was brought by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and argued that the regulations violated the equal protection clause of Alaska’s constitution by discriminating against women choosing to have an abortion.

Planned Parenthood argued that the restrictive definition provided for the “medical necessity” of an abortion singled out the procedure from other Medicaid-funded services. By doing so, the regulations subjected women to discriminatory practices and violated their guarantee of equal protection. A superior court declared the laws unconstitutional and subsequently prevented the laws from taking effect. The state appealed, arguing the statute and regulation should be interpreted more leniently.

In the state's Supreme Court decision, the court reaffirmed the ruling of unconstitutionality. The court "stated the laws are under-inclusive, singling out abortion among other argued 'elective' procedures available to pregnant women." Furthermore, the regulation facially treated pregnant women differently based on their “exercise of reproductive choice,” the court said. As such, the state will not be permitted to enforce the Medicaid-limiting regulations. 

February 20, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, In the Courts, Medical News, Politics, Reproductive Health & Safety, State and Local News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 11, 2019

An Overview of State Abortion Laws

NPR (Feb. 9, 2019): An Overview of State Abortion Laws, by NPR Weekend Edition Saturday:

On Saturday, NPR's Scott Simon spoke with Julie Rovner, chief Washington correspondent for Kaiser Health News, about new abortion laws in state legislatures across the country.

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Louisiana from enforcing a restrictive abortion law. The court will likely hear a challenge to the merits of that law this fall. Many states are moving to pass a number of new abortion laws to prepare for the possible overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Rovner discussed efforts by anti-choice legislators to pass legislation in order to bring the issue of abortion to the Supreme Court again and again, as well as efforts by pro-choice legislators to safeguard abortion access in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned. Rovner also discussed the Trump Administration's impending plans to "evict Planned Parenthood" from Title X, the federal family planing program.

Listen to the interview below:

February 11, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, In the Courts, State Legislatures | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 8, 2019

Supreme Court Blocks Louisiana Abortion Restrictions

The New York Times (Feb. 7, 2018): Supreme Court Blocks Louisiana Abortion Restrictions, by Adam Liptak:

The Supreme Court blocked the Louisiana admitting-privileges law that Justice Alito issued a stay for just last week in June Medical Services v. Gee

The law would have effectively limited the abortion providers in the state of Louisiana to one, by requiring such providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Many hospitals either would not extend such privileges or were not in the required 30-mile radius of the abortion-providing clinics at risk under the law. While initially passed in 2014, the Louisiana law has been entangled in lawsuits ever since. SCOTUS struck down a similar statute in Texas in 2016 in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt

The Supreme Court stayed enforcement of the Louisiana law, but it may ultimately decide to take the case for full review.  This would allow the Court to reconsider the clarification provided by Hellerstedt on the "undue burden" standard, initially implemented in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). This standard says that legislation that has either the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the way of a pregnant person seeking to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion creates an undue burden on them, and is therefore unconstitutional. Medically unnecessary laws that offer minimal, if any, health benefits to pregnant persons while increasing their obstacles to seeking an abortion constitute "undue burdens."

The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four-member liberal wing.

February 8, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Current Affairs, In the Courts, Politics, Pro-Choice Movement, Reproductive Health & Safety, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Supreme Court, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP), Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

El Salvador court frees Imelda Cortez, jailed under anti-abortion laws

BBC News (Dec. 18, 2018): El Salvador court frees woman jailed under anti-abortion laws, by BBC News:

A woman who was jailed for attempted murder under El Salvador's strict anti-abortion laws has been freed.

Imelda Cortez, 20, says she became pregnant by her stepfather who sexually abused her for many years. Doctors suspected she had tried to perform an abortion after she gave birth to a baby girl in a latrine in April 2017. The child survived, but Imelda Cortez was arrested and spent more than 18 months in jail as she awaited trial. Prosecutors argued that her failure to tell anyone about the pregnancy and seek medical help after giving birth constituted attempted murder, which carries a possible 20-year sentence in El Salvador.

On Monday, however, a court ruled that Cortez, who was unaware that she was pregnant, had not sought an abortion. Cortez's lawyers said that to avoid a harsher sentence, she had admitted to neglecting her newborn baby, which carries a one-year jail term. The court ultimately decided to dismiss that offense and told Cortez she was free to go home.

"This sentence... represents hope for women who are still in prison and are also being tried for aggravated homicide," defense attorney Ana Martinez told reporters following the verdict.

El Salvador is one of several countries in the world where abortion is completely banned and carries heavy penalties. While the country is not alone in Latin America in having a total ban on abortions, it is particularly strict in the way it enforces the ban: doctors have to inform the authorities if they think a woman has tried to end her pregnancy. If they fail to report such cases, they too could face long sentences in jail.

Human rights groups are calling this enforcement of the ban a criminalization of miscarriages and medical emergencies, with more than 100 people convicted in El Salvador since 2000.

December 18, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, In the Courts, International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Woman who bore rapist’s baby faces 20 years in El Salvador jail

The Guardian (Nov. 12, 2018): Woman who bore rapist’s baby faces 20 years in El Salvador jail, by Nina Lakhani: 

In the wake of fetal personhood, or similar, ballot measures being proposed and passed throughout the U.S., it's important to look to other countries where abortion is criminalized to see the effects of living in a world where abortion and those who seek or perform them are punished.

A survivor of habitual sexual abuse by her grandfather has been imprisoned in El Salvador since April 2017 on charges of attempted murder. Last April, Imelda Cortez, then 20-years-old, gave birth to a child fathered by her rapist.  She experienced intense pain and bleeding before the birth, which caused her mother to bring her to the hospital. The doctors there suspected an attempted abortion and called the police. The baby was born alive and well, but Imelda has never been able to hold her, as she's been in custody since her time in the hospital last year. 

Authorities conducted a paternity test, which confirmed Imelda's claims of rape, yet her grandfather has not been charged with any crime. Imelda's criminal trial began this week and a decision from a three judge panel is expected next week. 

Abortion is illegal in all circumstances--no exceptions--in El Salvador. The strict ban has led to severe persecution of pregnant people throughout the country, often most heavily affecting impoverished, rural-living people. Most people accused of abortion simply experienced a pregnancy complication, including miscarriage and stillbirth.

This pattern of prosecutions targeting a particular demographic suggests a discriminatory state policy which violates multiple human rights, according to Paula Avila-Guillen, director of Latin America Initiatives at the New York based Women’s Equality Centre. Cortez’s case is a stark illustration of how the law criminalises victims.

Abortion has been criminalized in El Salvador for 21 years. While a bill was drafted nearly two years ago--with public and medical support--aiming to reform the system and relax the ban to allow the option of abortion at least in certain cases (for example, rape, human trafficking, an unviable fetus, or threat to a pregnant person's life), it remains stuck in committee and is not expected to make it to vote. 

 

November 13, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Current Affairs, In the Courts, International, Politics, Poverty, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Reproductive Health & Safety, Sexual Assault, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 9, 2018

What the Election Results Mean for Abortion in America

The Cut (Nov. 8, 2018): What the Election Results Mean for Abortion in America, by Irin Carmon:

"Tuesday’s results were messy and contradictory, just like the current reality of reproductive rights," writes Irin Carmon for The Cut.

With federal courts failing to protect abortion access, it will be up to the states to give and take away. “We made huge gains at the state level, which is going to be crucially important as we face the post-Roe reality,” says NARAL president Ilyse Hogue. Exit polls showed broad support for Roe v. Wade, but Republican voters in states like Indiana and North Dakota were motivated by Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to vote Republican.

First, the bad: the Senate and the federal judiciary "are gone." Republicans took a firm majority in the Senate, which has the sole authority to select federal judges and Supreme Court justices. Should Donald Trump have the chance to make another pick for the Supreme Court justice, writes Carmon, "the impact would be catastrophic."

Plenty of damage has and still can be done by Trump-controlled federal agencies, too. Earlier this week, the Department of Health and Human Services issued rules to limit abortion coverage on insurance plans on the exchange and to grant employers broad ability to opt out of including birth control in their plans.

But the good news is that without Republican control of the House, no major legislation restricting access to contraception or birth control — including defunding Planned Parenthood or a ban on abortion at 20 weeks — is likely to go anywhere.

At the state level, pro-choice Democrats didn’t lose a single governor’s seat and actually picked up seven seats. Former governors in some of the those states — like Kansas, Michigan, and Wisconsin — were zealous in limiting abortion access, making the replacements especially significant. Blue states also saw a total of 300 state legislature seats flipping Democratic, paving the way for stronger protections for abortion access.

In New York, eight state Senate seats went to Democrats, after a concerted campaign highlighted Republican opponents’ refusal to a Reproductive Health Act that would safeguard abortion liberty in New York in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned. Democrats now control the New York State Senate for the first time in a decade.

Some Republican supermajorities, which can override vetoes, were shrunk to simple majorities. Perhaps most promisingly, pro-choice champions won in red states, like Colin Allred in Texas. In Orange County, California, 31-year-old Katie Hill, who spoke openly about how her miscarriage at 18 had informed her support for reproductive freedom, bested the anti-abortion Steve Knight.

November 9, 2018 in Abortion, Congress, Contraception, In the Courts, Politics, President/Executive Branch, State Legislatures, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Abortion Rights Got Two Important Legal Wins Last Week

Rewire.News (Oct. 1, 2018): Abortion Rights Got Two Important Legal Wins Last Week, by Jessica Mason Pieklo:

 A Federal court in Kentucky ruled a 1998 state law aimed at limiting abortion clinics unconstitutional. 

The law requires abortion clinics to have written transfer agreements with ambulance services and hospitals, often referred to as "transfer and transport" requirements.  Even though the state's last abortion clinic (and a plaintiff in the lawsuit) has been able to maintain the licensure required by the law--and so stay open--the court agreed with the clinic's argument that Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) has used the law as a tool to try to cut off abortion access. 

Judge Greg Stivers ruled:

The court has carefully reviewed the evidence presented in this case and concludes that the record is devoid of any credible proof that the challenged regulations have any tangible benefit to women’s health.  The regulations effectively eliminate women’s right to abortions in the state. Therefore, the challenged regulations are unconstitutional.

The judge affirmed that “the challenged regulations are not medically necessary and do absolutely nothing to further the health and safety of women seeking abortions in the Commonwealth of Kentucky." The decision is expected to be appealed in the 6th Circuit. 

A federal court in Virginia also ruled last week that that a similar lawsuit challenging the state's anti-choice licensing and oversight restrictions can move forward. 

 

October 4, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, In the Courts, Medical News, Politics, Pro-Choice Movement, Reproductive Health & Safety, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 28, 2018

Louisiana's 'admitting privileges' abortion law upheld

NOLA.com (Sep. 27, 2018): Louisiana's 'admitting privileges' abortion law upheld, by The Associated Press:

A panel for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that a Louisiana law requiring that abortion providers have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals does not violate the constitutional right to abortion.

The 2-1 ruling from the 5th Circuit panel notes Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, but the majority found Louisiana's law does not impose the same "substantial burden" on women as the Texas law that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016. The ruling reversed a Baton Rouge-based federal judge's ruling in the case and ordered the lawsuit by opponents of the law dismissed.

"Almost all Texas hospitals required that for a doctor to maintain privileges there, he or she had to admit a minimum number of patients annually," Judge Jerry E. Smith wrote in the opinion joined by Judge Edith Brown Clement. "Few Louisiana hospitals made that demand."

The law's immediate effects are unclear as to the three abortion clinics that court records indicate operate in Louisiana -- in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport.

Opponents of the law have argued it would make it very difficult or impossible for many to obtain abortion care in Louisiana, saying the law could result in one or two clinic closures and, eventually, a loss of access to abortion by 70 percent of individuals seeking abortion care in Louisiana.

Judge Smith rejected that argument. His opinion didn't attack the district judge's decision that the law's benefits were minimal. Instead, he wrote that the 2017 ruling, by Judge John deGravelles, exaggerated the burden on women seeking an abortion. He found no evidence that any Louisiana clinics will close because of the law, stating that there is only one doctor at one clinic who currently is unable to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. If he stops performing the procedure, Smith wrote, it would affect "at most, only 30 percent of women, and even then, not substantially."

The dissenting judge, Patrick Higginbotham, took his colleagues to task, saying they retried the case after the district judge had given full consideration to the facts. "At the outset," he wrote, "I fail to see how a statute with no medical benefit that is likely to restrict access to abortion can be considered anything but 'undue."

 

September 28, 2018 in Abortion, In the Courts, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Supreme Court, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 24, 2018

How safe are abortion rights in New York if Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed?

Albany Times-Union (Sept. 18, 2018): How safe are abortion rights in NY if Kavanaugh is confirmed?, by Bethany Bump:

New York legalized abortion in 1970, becoming the second state in the United States to broadly legalize abortion care and the first state in the nation to legalize it for out-of-state residents.

At the time, the law was seen as liberal, but no longer, according to legal scholars and experts. As confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh proceed in the U.S. Senate and the fate of Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance, New York's abortion laws have received increased attention at the state and local level.

"There has been a dramatic increase by states in the last decade to try to test the boundaries of the nation's abortion law, and it seemed to be in anticipation of changes on the Supreme Court," said Andy Ayers, director of Albany Law School's Government Law Center.

Though a common assumption is that New York is generally safe from federal rollbacks on progressive issues, a policy brief authored by Ayers and published last week by Albany Law School and the Rockefeller Institute of Government highlights exactly why that might not be the case when it comes to abortion rights.

Under New York penal law, abortion is technically a crime. The 1970 law that legalized abortion simply made the procedure a "justifiable" crime under two specific circumstances: when it is performed within 24 weeks of conception or when it is performed to save a woman's life. The law contains no health exception or any other exception (such as when the fetus is nonviable) from the 24-week restriction. However, the Supreme Court later ruled in Roe and in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that denying a health exception or forcing women to carry nonviable fetuses to term constitute unconstitutional restrictions on access to abortion care.

In 1994, the New York Court of Appeals wrote that "the fundamental right of reproductive choice, inherent in the due process liberty right guaranteed by our state constitution, is at least as extensive as the federal constitutional right," and went on to cite both Roe and Casey

"In lawyer terms, this was 'dicta,' meaning non-binding," said Ayers, who is an adviser to the Rockefeller Institute's Center for Law and Policy Solutions. "But to me, it's very, very hard to imagine that our Court of Appeals would find it permissible to restrict abortion in a way that Roe would not have allowed."

Although legal experts agree it's unconstitutional for New York to deny late-term abortions to women to protect their health or when the fetus is nonviable, those exceptions remain a gray area to some medical professionals.

The law governing abortion in New York exists within the state's penal code, meaning violators could face criminal punishment rather than civil liability. Some doctors in New York have urged some patients to seek a late-term abortion in another state.

The Reproductive Health Act, a bill that was introduced in the state Legislature in 2017 to bring New York's abortion law in line with Roe and Casey, would lessen this effect by moving abortion statutes out of state penal law and into the state's public health law. It would also expand the types of medical professionals allowed to perform abortions to include nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

As President Donald Trump prepared to announce Brett Kavanaugh as his Supreme Court nominee this summer, and amid pressure on the left from Democratic primary opponent Cynthia Nixon, Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke out against Republican state senators who have refused to pass the bill.

Other states have had better luck amending their abortion laws as the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court faces its most significant shift since the Second World War. Massachusetts recently amended its laws to bolster abortion protections, while at least fifteen states have passed laws in recent years that would prohibit abortion should the Supreme Court overturn Roe.

"If a significant number of other states start prohibiting abortion or making it hard to access," Ayers said, "we may see people come into New York to get abortions again, just like they did in the '70s."

This past Thursday, the New York City Council Committee on Women, chaired by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, held a hearing on the current status of reproductive rights and access to abortion services in New York City. The Committee heard Council Resolution 84, introduced by Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Member Rosenthal, and Council Member Justin Brannan, which urges the State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, the Reproductive Health Act. Abortion rights advocates testified at the hearing, including Cynthia Soohoo, Co-Director of the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic at CUNY School of Law. More information about the hearing, including video of the hearing, can be found here.

September 24, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Congress, In the Courts, Politics, President/Executive Branch, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)