Tuesday, June 22, 2021
By Kelly Folkers (June 22, 2021)
As the country braces for the Supreme Court to hear a challenge to Roe v. Wade, Congressional efforts continue to codify the right to abortion into law. This month, Senate Democrats reintroduced the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), which would prevent state governments from interfering with the right.
The reemergence of the WHPA comes as abortion rights hang in a particularly precarious balance. According to the Guttmacher Institute, state legislatures in 47 states have introduced 165 pre-viability bans since January 2021, and 83 have been enacted. At least 10 states have “trigger laws” in place that would ban abortion if the Supreme Court does overturn Roe next year.
The bill’s primary sponsors, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) have reintroduced the WHPA in every Congressional session since 2013. Yet, the bill has never received a vote. Likely in reaction to the upcoming Supreme Court challenge, the 2021 WHPA has a record number of sponsors: 48 in the Senate and 176 in the House. Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Veronica Escobar (D-TX) are the bill’s lead sponsors in the House.
The bill is described as a “guarantee” of abortion rights and would make it significantly harder for individual state legislatures to impose medically unnecessary restrictions. However, this is a misnomer as it does not establish a positive right to abortion services. The WHPA only codifies the pre-existing right to abortion access without doing more to ensure access is available to all.
Instead of taking proactive steps to increase abortion access beyond the current system, the bill goes on the defensive by targeting state laws that make abortion access unnecessarily restrictive. The bill states that patients have a statutory right to services without a variety of limitations or requirements that many state legislatures have in place, like requiring patients to receive an ultrasound, to visit a clinic for a medically unnecessary reason, or to be given medically inaccurate information.
In a reaction to litigation on access impediments, the WHPA creates a framework for analyzing laws across the states. The analysis includes whether a limitation or requirement is reasonably likely to delay access to care, whether it directly or indirectly increases the cost of care, including associated costs for taking time off work, childcare, or travel, or whether it is reasonably likely to result in a decrease in the availability of abortion services in a given state or region.
Though the WHPA would be a welcome step forward, more will be needed to create true reproductive justice. The bill cites reproductive justice as the main goal, stating that reproductive justice is “a human right that can and will be achieved when all people […] have the economic, social, and political power and resources to define and make decisions about their bodies, health, sexuality, families, and communities in all areas of their lives, with dignity and self-determination.” Without a shift from defense to offense and the creation of true structural changes, congressional Democrats fall short of achieving their goal.
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
By Fallon Parker (March 2, 2021)
In the wake of Amy Coney Barrett’s fast-tracked ascendance to the U.S. Supreme Court last fall, headlines have spotlighted the flurry of anti-abortion legislation making its way through state legislatures in anticipation of a receptive Supreme Court. However, in the four months since Barrett's confirmation, several states have introduced measures that would shore up reproductive rights and protect them against federal assault.
This legislation is vital given the conservative majority on the Supreme Court and the 17 pending abortion cases that could be argued before the court in 2022.
New Mexico made headlines on February 19th when state legislators voted to repeal a 1969 law that banned most abortions in the state after a failed 2019 attempt to rescind it. Although the statute has been dormant since 1973 when Roe v. Wade was decided, it could go back into effect if Roe is overturned. The statute mandated hospital board approval for medical termination of a pregnancy and restricted abortion to situations of incest, rape reported to the police, grave medical risks to the pregnant person, or indications of grave medical defects in the fetus. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed the repeal bill on February 26th, making it law as of that date.
In Minnesota, two Democratic state legislators, Representative Kelly Morrison, and Senator Jennifer McEwen, introduced the Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act on January 21st. The bill would establish the fundamental right of Minnesotans to make individual decisions about reproductive health care, including abortion; recognize a fundamental right to privacy with respect to personal reproductive decisions; and prevent the state from interfering with reproductive decisions. According to Rep. Morrison's press release, this legislation is in response to the nationwide attack on abortion rights and the possibility of a Supreme Court challenge to Roe. However, Minnesota’s state legislature is under split control, with Democrats controlling the House of Representatives and Republicans controlling the Senate, which makes it unlikely the legislation will pass.
In Virginia, after years of organizing, in 2019 Democrats gained control of both state chambers for the first time since 1996. The Senate quickly passed the Reproductive Health Protection Act in April of 2020 repealing a number of medically dubious restrictions on abortion. More recently, the Senate and House each passed a parallel bill to repeal the ban on abortion coverage for people on the state’s healthcare exchange. This legislation is expected to be signed by Governor Ralph Northam (D) in April. Similar bills mandating healthcare abortion coverage have recently been introduced in Arizona, Hawaii, California, and New Jersey, although only Virginia’s has been brought to a vote.
Massachusetts--a historically liberal state--acted quickly to codify abortion rights following Barrett’s appointment. In late 2020, the state legislature expanded access to abortion beyond 24 weeks in cases of fatal fetal anomalies, and lowered the age of consent from 18 to 16. Governor Charlie Baker (R) vetoed the bill, but the Massachusetts legislature easily overrode the veto by a vote of 107-46 in the House and 32-8 in the Senate making it law as of December 29, 2020.
Overall, since Barrett's confirmation, at least 13 states have introduced measures to protect the right to an abortion. As advocates face what could be a long battle over reproductive rights in federal courts, the importance of state-level organizing and the resulting legislation could prove paramount in the fight for abortion access. If a challenge to abortion reaches the Supreme Court, the disparity in abortion access among states could return the country to pre-Roe v. Wade conditions. If that happens, a pregnant person's access to reproductive choices will depend entirely on the political makeup and policy priorities of their state legislature.
Saturday, November 23, 2019
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)
Wednesday, November 13, 2019
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
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.
Monday, October 7, 2019
U.S. joins 19 nations, including Saudi Arabia and Russia: ‘There is no international right to an abortion’
The Washington Post (Sept. 24, 2019): U.S. joins 19 nations, including Saudi Arabia and Russia: ‘There is no international right to an abortion’, by Ariana Eunjung Cha:
The United States, in a statement delivered to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 23 this year, rejected the use of the term "sexual and reproductive health and rights" throughout U.N. documents and in particular within the international Sustainable Development Goals. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar delivered the statement and emphasized that international instruments should not promote "abortion as a means of family planning." He disputed that there is an international right to an abortion.
The U.S., one among 19 nations who joined in the statement, further emphasized that "[they] only support sex education that appreciates the protective role of the family in this education and does not condone harmful sexual risks for young people."
The Netherlands delivered a responsive joint statement on behalf of 58 countries rejecting the U.S. position and stressing "the need to uphold the full range of sexual and reproductive rights." Country representatives also took to Twitter to object to the U.S. statement, using the hashtag #SRHR (sexual and reproductive health and rights), explicitly embracing the language the United States aims to erase.
Many country representatives, along with civil society advocacy groups, underscore that on this issue of abortion the U.S. "align[s] with countries like Saudi Arabia and Sudan with poor human rights records." They also emphasize the problematic nature of the United States' campaign to persuade other countries to form a new coalition in support of these regressive policies, calling attention to the fact that these efforts put "unfair pressure on poor countries" dependent on U.S. aid.
The Trump administration worked hard leading up the General Assembly to recruit conservative governments to support its efforts to roll back sexual and reproductive health and rights across the board. This campaign could have devastating effects on adults and children who rely on international programs for basic health care, particularly prenatal and postpartum health care.
The United States-led campaign at the UNGA last week follows a similar effort directed at the World Health Organization (WHO) in which the U.S., Brazil, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and several other states campaigned to reject the term "sexual and reproductive rights" from WHO policy, as Colum Lynch for Foreign Policy reports.
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.
Thursday, September 12, 2019
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)
Monday, July 29, 2019
July 23, 2019 (Human Rights Watch): India's Transgender Bill Raises Rights Concerns:
India's parliament introduced a new bill meant to protect the rights of transgender people on July 19 this year. Human Rights Watch ("HRW"), though, says that the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill does not protect certain important rights upheld by India's Supreme Court in 2014--namely, the right of transgender persons to self-identify.
The human rights organization warns that "even though the bill says that a transgender person 'shall have a right to self-perceived gender identity,' its language could be interpreted to mean transgender people are required to have certain surgeries before legally changing their gender."
Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director at HRW, emphasized that "it's crucial the the law be in line with the Supreme Court's historic ruling on transgender rights." The proposed law, instead, "appears to mandate a two-step process for legal gender recognition," requiring a trans person first to apply for an initial certificate and then to apply for a "change in gender certificate," which many perceive as requiring gender-affirmation surgery along with medical confirmation.
The bill also gives discretion to the district magistrate to determine the "correctness" of the person's application for the certificates yet is silent as to how the decision of "correctness" should be made.
In 2014, the country's highest court ruled in NALSA v. India that transgender people are a recognized third gender, enjoy all fundamental rights, and are entitled to specific benefits in education and employment. The bill introduced this month does not address whether a trans person holding a male or female gender certificate, though, will have access to the government welfare meant for transgender persons.
Human Rights Watch further calls out the bill for not only seemingly violating India's Supreme Court holding, but also for violating international standards for gender recognition, which require separation of legal and medical processes of gender reassignment. "Self-declared identity should form the basis for access to all social security measures, benefits, and entitlements."
Notably, the bill also includes intersex persons; HRW calls for the parliament to rename the bill to make it clear that it includes intersex persons and establish additional explicit protections for intersex persons along with transgender persons.
Other changes parliament should make, HRW says, include: prohibiting medically unnecessary procedures on children, requiring the issuing of legal identity documents to interested persons that identify their preferred gender, and emphasizing training of teachers to "adopt inclusive methods" to ensure transgender or intersex children are not harassed, bullied, or discriminated against.
Says Ganguly: “To enact a law that meets international standards, it’s critical that parliament fully bring transgender people into the conversation."
Friday, July 26, 2019
July 19, 2019 (Rewire.News): Another State Could Soon Insert Anti-Abortion Propaganda Into Public Schools, by Erin Heger:
Ohio--the only U.S. state without standardized health education--may soon require public schools to focus on the “humanity of the unborn child” in health education curriculum.
House Bill 90, introduced by the state's GOP legislature, infuses anti-abortion language into health and science materials for students and would restrict schools from providing any abortion-related information or referrals to students facing pregnancy. The legislature aims for school programs to thoroughly detail information about fetuses and gestation, promoting carrying any pregnancy to term.
In 2016, Oklahoma also introduced similar legislation (calling it the "Humanity of the Unborn Child Act"), however it has not yet been implemented in the state due to "budget constraints."
Both HB 90 in Ohio and Oklahoma’s Humanity of the Unborn Child Act state their intended purpose is an “abortion-free society.” However, not informing young people of all their options does little to prevent abortion and instead leaves people not knowing what to do or where to turn when they do face an unintended pregnancy, said Cameron Brewer, an educator with Planned Parenthood Great Plains.
“If we are restricting the information students have access, to then we are doing them a disservice as educators,” Brewer told Rewire.News. “My goal as an educator is to make sure my students have all the information they need to make the best decisions for them.”
Thursday, June 13, 2019
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
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.
Friday, June 7, 2019
Jun. 4, 2019 (Quartz): Canada will invest $1 billion globally in women's and girls' health every year, by Annabelle Timsit:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada's new commitment to invest over one billion dollars annually in women's and girls' health. The funding will in large part benefit sexual and reproductive health in the face of growing threats around the world to women's rights, including the right to abortion.
This funding is an increase from Canada's prior years' commitments and comes with increased focus on supporting "female entrepreneurs, indigenous women, and LGBTQ people."
Allocating funding, among other socio-political resources, to the protection of Indigenous women in particular is especially critical in light of the recent report of the Canadian national inquiry regarding mass killings and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls throughout Canada. (See The New York Times (Jun. 3, 2019), by Ian Austen and Dan Bilefsky).
The three-year inquiry's final report labeled the systemic violence suffered by the Indigenous populations in Canada "a race-based genocide." It also included over 200 recommendations to implement systemic changes, like reforming police practices and the criminal justice system overall, as well as expansion of Indigenous women's shelters and empowering Indigenous persons to serve on civilian boards overseeing civil services. In addition, the report's authors call for the elevation of Indigenous languages to official languages of Canada, alongside English and French.
The inquiry, long overdue in the face of pervasive, violent colonialism, was prompted in 2014 when Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old girl from the Sagkeeng First Nation was found dead in the Manitoba Red River, wrapped in a plastic bag and weighed down with 25 pounds of rocks. The main suspect in her murder was acquitted.
Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Jun. 1, 2019 (Vox): Illinois affirms the "fundamental right" to abortion by passing a new bill, by Gabriela Resto-Montero:
Illinois, in a newly-passed bill called the Reproductive Health Act, states that a “fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights." The passing of this law thus grants pregnant people in Illinois the protected right to terminate their pregnancies. The Act was passed on Friday, May 31, 2019 and is expected to be signed by the governor.
State Senator Melinda Bush sponsored the bill and declared Illinois "a beacon for women's rights, for human rights." The legislation "repeals a 1975 state law that required spousal consent, waiting periods, placed restrictions on abortion facilities, and outlined procedures for pursuing criminal charges against abortion providers." It also "rolls back some state restrictions on late-term abortions by repealing Illinois’ Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act," a law that had not yet been enforced due to court injunctions.
While legislative threats to reproductive rights grow in numbers and severity throughout the country, Illinois is one of the first states to take concrete steps toward cementing the right to abortion--among other reproductive rights--within its borders. Other states (i.e. Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi) are vying for a slot on the SCOTUS docket and with it a chance at the overturning of Roe v. Wade and its Constitutional protections.
Recently, though, the Supreme Court signaled it is not quite ready to re-consider Roe. "In its decision regarding an abortion law passed by Illinois’ neighbor, Indiana, justices struck down one provision while affirming another part of the law, largely avoiding the question of whether abortion should be legal."
Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are leading the way with lawsuits aimed at preventing the so-called "heartbeat laws," and comparable legislation threatening reproductive rights and the safety and dignity of pregnant persons, from going into effect within anti-abortion state legislatures. "The Planned Parenthood Action Fund reports that so far in 2019, there have been 300 anti-abortion bills introduced in 36 states."
Illinois is not the only state working to protect abortion rights, though. "Some 13 states including New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Nevada have proposed bills to include a right to abortion in their Constitutions. While many of those efforts are still in their early stages, Vermont passed a bill to include the protection in its Constitution last week."
June 4, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Current Affairs, Fetal Rights, Politics, Pro-Choice Movement, Reproductive Health & Safety, State and Local News, State Legislatures | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, April 9, 2019
The Cut (Apr. 3, 2019): Alabama Lawmakers Want to Make Abortion a Felony, by Amanda Arnold:
States' attempts to severely restrict access to abortion services show no signs of slowing down, and in one state, the race to prohibit the procedure has indeed turned down the path of total criminalization.
The bill, HB314, was proposed proudly by Alabama representative Terri Collins and would classify performing any abortion as a Class A Felony, which carries a sentence of 10-99 years in the state. The single exception included in the bill is if "foregoing the procedure would pose a 'a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother.'"
Of course, as a blatant violation of precedent under Roe v. Wade and the established Constitutional right to an abortion, the bill, should it pass, would immediately be subject to legal challenges. In a showing of support for the extreme anti-abortion movement, though, 65 of Alabama's 105-member House co-sponsored HB314.
The ACLU of Alabama pointed out that, in addition to the "egregious infringement on women’s reproductive rights" that the bill represents, HB314 "will potentially cost taxpayers 'hundreds of thousands' of dollars to cover the bill’s legal fees."
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."
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
The New Yorker (Mar. 6, 2019): The Challenges of Innovating Access to Abortion, by Sue Halpern:
As states across the country continue to enact burdensome and medically unnecessary restrictions on safe and legal abortion care, last week the New Yorker examined the landscpe for access to abortion care via telemedicine.
Hawaii has one of the least restrictive abortion policies in the country, and yet services are still hard to come by due to geographic challenges. In 2018, only two of the Hawaiian islands had abortion providers: Maui and Oahu. As a result, medication abortion via telemedicine is a vital service to Hawaiian women seeking care.
Telemedicine—obtaining medical services over the phone or through the Internet—is not a new phenomenon. In the U.S., it began to take off in the late nineteen-fifties, and a 2016 federal grant to increase access to health care in rural areas has made it more mainstream.
TelAbortion, a service provided by the reproductive-health initiative Gynuity, enables a woman to terminate a pregnancy in the privacy of her own home, but with medical oversight. The service is available in Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Washington as a five-state trial launched by Gynuity in response to the ever-diminishing availability of abortion services in the United States.
Although the five states in the TelAbortion trial have some of the most accommodating abortion laws in the country, Gynuity is only able to run the trial with a waiver from the F.D.A., which has put onerous restrictions on the distribution of abortifacients. Mifepristone is one of only seventy-five F.D.A.-approved medications controlled through its Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS), and only one of fifty with its most stringent restrictions. According to the F.D.A., REMS, which regulates such drugs as Thalidomide, which is known to cause birth defects, is a drug-safety program for “medications with serious safety concerns to help ensure the benefits of the medication outweigh its risks.” The REMS mandates that mifepristone only be dispensed to a patient in a clinic, medical office, or hospital. A doctor can’t send a patient to their local pharmacy with a prescription for the medication, because pharmacies are not allowed to carry the drug. This limits the ability of physicians to administer the medication and of patients to obtain it, despite nearly twenty years of evidence demonstrating its safety and efficacy. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recommended eliminating the REMS altogether. An F.D.A. panel of experts recommended eliminating one aspect of the REMS in 2016 when the mifepristone REMS came up for review. It was overruled by the F.D.A. commissioner, an Obama appointee.
Medication abortion should make access to care easier, but some of the more recent restrictions passed by state legislatures also make getting medication abortion, which is already constrained by the REMS, more difficult. Seventeen states require that a clinician be physically present when mifepristone is taken. Thirty-four states require those clinicians to be licensed physicians. Women who obtain and self-administer medication abortion outside the traditional medical establishment, typically from an Internet pharmacy, may be subject to arrest and imprisonment. In 2013, a woman in Pennsylvania who had ordered them online for her daughter was sentenced to a nine-to-eighteen-month jail term for “providing abortion without a medical license, dispensing drugs without being a pharmacist, assault and endangering the welfare of a child.”
It is now possible to order these medications through AidAccess, a program overseen by a doctor in the Netherlands. While no one has been arrested, the promulgation of fetal-homicide laws—thirty-eight states now have them—and aggressive prosecutors puts women at risk of arrest if they obtain them in this manner.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, “these laws are even being used to pursue women who are merely suspected of having self-induced an abortion but in fact had suffered miscarriages.”
Monday, March 11, 2019
Rewire.News (Mar. 7, 2019): Here's How Democrats Want to Classify Reproductive Rights as Human Rights, by Katelyn Burns:
The Trump administration's State Department deleted reproductive rights from its human rights report last year. Now, Congressional Democrats have introduced a bill that would require the inclusion of reproductive rights--by way of an accounting of "access to reproductive health care"--in the report.
"The 'Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights Act' was introduced by Democratic caucus vice chair Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and announced at a press conference Thursday [March 7, 2019] along with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and U.S. Senate co-sponsors Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)."
Representative Clark said:
The way that we are able to protect human rights internationally is through shining a light on the violations. I think what this administration is saying is that we are no longer interested in finding out what is happening with women’s health and monitoring, assessing and protecting women across the globe.
The State Department's annual human rights report is of critical important to the our government, notes Amanda Klasing, acting co-director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch. Congress uses this report in determining appropriations pertaining to foreign assistance, and immigration judges likewise rely on the report in making decisions about pending asylum claims.
If a woman crosses the border from El Salvador claiming asylum in the United State because she is threatened with jail time in her home country for having a miscarriage, for example, an immigration judge might look to the human rights report to determine whether this is a credible basis on which she may claim asylum.
The information that used to be included on the report was gathered by foreign service officers who had established relationships with health care providers and advocates around the world. These relationship no longer exist under the current administration. Not only is the information foreign service officers previously gathered lost, the contacts that enabled substantial, accurate reporting are gone.
"There will be a minimum of a year or two years for embassies to rebuild meaningful relationships where they can actually be substantially reporting on what’s happening," said Stephanie Schmid, U.S. foreign policy council at the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR).
Since the deletion of reproductive rights from the report, the CRR has twice sued the State Department under the Freedom of Information Act in an effort to access documentation about the erasure. The newly-proposed bill "mandates that foreign service officers must consult with reproductive health and rights organizations in local communities to gather accurate information for the human rights report."
Advocates for reproductive rights hope this bill will solidify the importance of including reproductive rights among human rights generally.
'There is a sense that there are hard human rights issues and then there are soft human rights issues,' Klasing said. 'The State Department is still reporting on the hard human rights issues like torture, extrajudicial killings, but there’s some flexibility as to whether or not these [reproductive rights] actually qualify as human rights. As somebody who has interviewed both people who have been victims of state sponsored violence, torture, abuse, and people who have had their reproductive rights violated, the feeling of abuse, the feeling of violation is the same. It’s a visceral feeling.'
Saturday, March 9, 2019
The Irish Times (Mar. 4, 2019): Irish ban on funding abortion services in developing world to be lifted, by Pat Leahy:
As a result of the 2018 repeal of Ireland's constitutional ban on abortion, Irish foreign humanitarian and development policy is shifting, too. Previously, Irish foreign aid money was generally prohibited from being used to fund abortion services, because such medical and reproductive health programmes were contrary to Irish law.
Irish Aid, the development aid programme of Ireland's government, is now launching a new initiative on "sexual and reproductive health and rights." The Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week launched its new policy on development aid: "A Better World." The policy has four priorities, including prioritizing gender equality, reducing humanitarian need, climate action, and strengthening governance. The reconsiderations of reproductive health aid are expected to flow from this new policy.
The main focus of Irish Aid's programmes lies in sub-Saharan Africa, where Ireland has long-standing assistance programs in eight countries. Irish Aid also has established programming in Vietnam, South Africa, and Palestine, among other nations.
The prior Irish policy of withholding funding for abortion services echos the Trump administration's global gag rule pertaining to foreign aid. Programs and policies that police the reproductive health services offered in foreign nations have a significant, negative impact in countries aiming to slow population growth and provide comprehensive health care and education to women and girls.
Tuesday, March 5, 2019
Houston Chronicle (Feb. 25, 2019): Texas gave anti-abortion group millions for women's health, despite warnings, by Jeremy Blackman:
In May 2016, Carol Everett sent an email to fellow anti-abortion activists detailing “an extraordinary pro-life opportunity.” Her nonprofit, the Heidi Group, she said, had spent the past year pushing for nearly $40 million in funding to help Christian pregnancy centers “bless many poor women” across Texas. The opportunity she was discussing? An application to become one of the state’s leading family planning providers as part of the Healthy Texas Women program, which offers free women’s health and family planning services to eligible, low-income women.
Everett had never contracted with the state and had no clinical background. Many of the pregnancy centers she cited don’t provide contraception, a core family planning service. Still, state health officials gave her significant public funding anyway, ignoring warning signs and overruling staff that recommended millions less in funding, according to a review of the contracting by the Houston Chronicle. When Everett’s clinics began failing, Texas delayed for months in shifting money to higher performing clinics and chose to devote vast amounts of time to support Everett and her small, understaffed team.
The Heidi Group was not the only contractor that struggled in Healthy Texas Women. By the end of the first year, others had met just 46 percent of their combined patient targets. They had spent just over a third of their proposed fee-for-service expenditures, the state’s preferred source because every expense can be tracked. Those excelling early on were established providers versed in the state’s complex billing procedures. For them, the program has been a boon from the beginning, increasing funding for equipment and staff, and adding reimbursements for a larger swath of health services. Still, many of the smaller, less-experienced clinics could not scale up quickly enough and felt they had not received adequate training on billing and enrollment delays.
The state's separate Family Planning program within HHS had twice the success rate, both in spending and patient targets. Though the 39 Healthy Texas Women contractors had access to more money in the first year, those in the Family Planning program outspent them by several million dollars, which the state said it could not immediately verify. Because of its less stringent eligibility requirements, Family Planning program providers say they can more easily meet need where it exists. And for many of them, that is with immigrant and undocumented families.
Though it’s impossible to say how many more women could have been served had the resources been shifted sooner, several competing clinics involved in Healthy Texas Women burned through their funding early in the grant cycle, surpassing their targets for both spending and patients treated. Had they been sent some of the $6.75 million sitting in wait for the Heidi Group, the door could have opened for thousands more women to receive access to contraception, STD screenings and breast exams.
“We would definitely have been able to serve more,” said Marcie Mir, the chief executive officer of El Centro de Corazon, which serves immigrant communities in East Houston.
The Houston Chronicle’s review included emails, internal records, and interviews with two dozen people, and found that the Texas HHS made repeated concessions, and not just to the Heidi Group. State health officials lowered the standards for applicants in two new women’s health programs, including Healthy Texas Women, and revised past patient counts, making it easier to show growth. Quality control measures were stalled, and only the Heidi Group received on-site clinical assessments in the first year, despite similar problems with other contractors.
At least one top Republican, Governor Greg Abbott, laid the groundwork for Everett’s selection, controlling her appointment to an influential committee helping to develop the new programs, according to records. The health official who allocated Everett's award has close personal ties to the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, whose founder, Dr. James Leininger, has been a key donor to the Heidi Group, as well as to Abbott.
Everett’s funding was revoked last fall after two years of poor performance, and auditors are reviewing whether the Heidi Group mishandled funds.
Despite an uptick in number of people served in 2017 from the previous year, Texas still served 100,000 fewer patients than in 2010, despite spending about $35 million more in 2017, including federal dollars.
What has happened in Texas may be a preview for the country at large. The Trump administration on Friday announced it is cutting family planning funding to abortion affiliates, a decision that further undermines groups like Planned Parenthood, which provide the bulk of non-abortion services to low-income women nationally. The move, much like the one in Texas years ago, is expected to direct millions toward faith-based providers.