Senator Blumenthal noted that a woman’s right to make health care decisions, including the ability to obtain abortions, without government or public interference is presently facing an unprecedented number of threats and legal challenges. For example there are restrictions currently being enacted by state and local governments have the effect of deterring women from making fundamental reproductive choices. There should be no regulation applied to abortions that is not similarly applied to comparable medical procedures, the Senator noted.
A panel discussion featuring some of the foremost scholars and practitioners in the realm of reproductive rights preceded Senator Blumenthal’s comments and was moderated by Juliet Eilperin, White House Correspondent for the Washington Post. Roger Evans, Senior Director of Public Policy Litigation and Law at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, noted that the next major legal battle in this arena will be focused on a rising number of state laws that require abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges.
Last November, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas (and assorted affiliates) filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court to vacate a stay granted by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which temporarily blocked the permanent injunction that federal district court judge Lee Yeakel placed on Texas’ H.B. 2. The law requires that, among other anti-choice restrictions, doctors preforming abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic. The Supreme Court rejected that application, but Evans stated that it was “inevitable” that the issue of admitting privileges would eventually make it before the Court.
So a new Pew poll finds a majority of Americans under 30 do not know what the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade was all about. Well this month marks the 40th anniversary of that landmark decision, so maybe a few more of those under 30 will get a clue about a case that advanced liberty for women. They might also learn that Roe has been undercut by subsequent Supreme Court opinions, which have helped state lawmakers create and enact measures making it far more difficult for women to make decisions about their health.
The opinion issued on Jan. 22, 1973 invalidated a state law banning abortion. A majority of the court led by Justice Harry Blackmun found that the state ban on abortion violated personal privacy. Blackman wrote, in part, that a “right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state actions, as we feel it is, or as, the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”
On Jan. 18 – 19 as part of the Constitution in 2020 project, several groups, including ACS, will host a conference examining two landmark Supreme Court cases, one being Roe, that helped advance liberty and equality for minorities. The conference at UCLA called “Liberty/Equality: the View from Roe’s 40th and Lawrence’s 10th Anniversaries,” will include some of the nation’s leading experts on gender, sexuality and equality to examine conflicts that led to the landmark decisions and look at how the current Supreme Court has handled ongoing debate over reproductive rights and equality for the LGBT community (The high court in Lawrence v. Texas invalidated a state law banning sex between consenting adults of the same gender.)
Dawn Johnsen, an ACS Board Member, will be among the participants at the Constitution in 2020 gathering. Johnsen (pictured), a distinguished law professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, authored an ACS Issue Brief in 2008 on the 35th anniversary of Roe. It’s a prescient piece, noting that challenges to reproductive rights were intensifying, partly because of high court decisions that followed Roe, which opened the door to more onerous restrictions on women’s autonomy.
As noted here recently Reva Siegel and Linda Greenhouse, writing for Balkinization’s Constitution in 2020 conference forum, suggested that a backlash to reproductive freedom was swelling even before Roe was handed down. But in her ACS Issue Brief, Johnsen noted that the setbacks to Roe really got underway with the high court’s 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey opinion.
Salon’s Irin Carmon highlights a recent ruling by U.S. District Judge James Teilborg, appointed to the bench by President Clinton, to uphold an Arizona law that outlaws abortions before viability. It’s one of the few state laws to ban pre-viability abortions and Teilborg’s opinion runs counter to the U.S. Supreme Court precedent that forbids states from banning abortions before viability.
But beyond Teilborg’s failure to grasp precedent, Carmon notes his reliance on the “suspect science of ‘fetal pain,’ a first in the federal courts ….”
The ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the constitutionality of the Arizona law, but as Carmon notes did not delve into the suspect science because of the clear precedent on laws banning pre-viability abortions.
The judge, however, claimed that there is “substantial and well-documented evidence that an unborn child has capacity to feel pain during an abortion at least 20 weeks gestational age.”
Carmon notes that leading medical organizations, such as the Journal of American Medical Association and the Royal College of Obstetricians have found otherwise.
That ruling, which can be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, follows a recent one from a federal appeals court upholding a South Dakota law that orders physicians to tell women seeking an abortion that abortions cause an increased risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit claimed there is “extensive evidence” of such risks.
In 1994 federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle banded together to advance legislation aimed at tackling the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence. It was and remains a noble goal. Indeed it represented one of the more communitarian pieces of legislation of the time. The nation it seemed, even if fleeting, to be concerned about bettering the quality of lives of some of the nation’s most vulnerable, as opposed to catering solely to the nation’s wealthiest and most powerful.
Today reauthorization of the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), as noted on this blog, is mired in mindless obstructionism. The reauthorization measure was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, and finally passed the Senate today on a 68-31 vote. But House Republicans are itching to keep obstructionism alive, promising their own reauthorization measure.
Though the Justice Department has reported a decline in domestic violence, a 2011 National Census of Domestic Violence Services revealed that more than 67,000 victims of domestic violence received federal help in a single day.
Moreover since enactment of the VAWA it has become apparent that services need to be extended, such as free legal services to victims, authority for Native American officials to respond to abuse of Indian women by those not covered by Indian jurisdiction, more help to undocumented people who are victims of domestic violence, and to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender victims of domestic violence.
It is this effort to help more people that spurred opposition. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) complained about the reauthorization measure’s additional services. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said the bill’s efforts to expand the reach of domestic violence programs were meant to “invite opposition.”
Right-wing lobbying groups have also ramped up opposition to reauthorization. The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins said the VAWA reauthorization bill “does real violence to the budget and individual freedom.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a Tea Party favorite, took to the Senate floor to declare that he was not voting against helping victims of domestic violence. He said he was voting against “big government and inefficient spending ….”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, who introduced the reauthorization measure with Michael Crapo (R-Idaho), lauded today’s Senate vote, and said he hoped the House “will soon consider this legislation ….”
But The Associated Press reported recently that a group of Republicans in the House is working to create a different reauthorization bill. It would likely strip the Senate’s efforts to help undocumented immigrants, Native Americans, and gays, lesbians and transgenders.
During the Senate’s drawn-out effort to reauthorize the VAWA, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told The New York Times that the Republican opposition “is part of a larger effort, candidly, to cut back on the rights and services to women. We’ve seen it go from discussions on Roe v. Wade, to partial birth abortion, to contraception, to preventive services from women. This seems to be one more thing.”
But over the past two years numerous state lawmakers have garnered increasing notice for their strident efforts to make it nearly impossible for women to obtain abortions. Louise Melling, director of the ACLU’s Center for Liberty, noted last year that the states were on a disconcerting roll of attacking reproductive rights. In the process, Melling said the states were stigmatizing women, by essentially saying they are incapable of making decisions on abortions. These state efforts say “women can’t make these decisions, we’re not … trusted decision-makers, and we need assistance as we make this decision,” Melling told ACSblog.
Reporting for The Huffington Post, Laura Bassett notes that Idaho’s attempt to force women to undergo an ultrasound and hear anti-abortion propaganda from the state before choosing to have an abortion included a ridiculously offensive comment from state Sen. Chuck Winder.
Before the Senate passed the bill, some opponents noted it failed to provide an “exception for rape victims, incest victims or women in medical emergencies,” Bassett wrote.
Winder responded to the concern by suggesting that women may not know when they’ve been raped.
“Rape and incest was used as a reason to oppose this,” he said. “I would hope that when a woman goes in to a physician with a rape issue, that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was the pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage or was it truly caused by rape. I assume that’s part of the counseling that goes on.”
Bassett notes that if Idaho’s bill becomes law, victims of rape or incest seeking an abortion will be steered to centers that aim “to dissuade women from having an abortion.”
What is likely not surprising is that many of the right-wing politicians peddling destructive health care policy for women, are also in the camp of decrying the landmark health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as a heavy-handed attempt by the federal government to regulate the health care industry.
Former U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger (pictured), at last year’s ACS National Convention, lambasted the argument that the ACA was a grave threat to liberty.