National Women's Law Center

  • July 2, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Kelli Garcia, Senior Counsel, National Women’s Law Center

    The Supreme Court earlier this week stayed enforcement of key provisions of HB2—Texas’ sweeping anti-abortion law—pending the Court’s decision whether to hear an appeal in the case.  Only 9 abortion clinics would have remained open in the state had the law gone into effect leaving over 1.3 million women of reproductive age more than 100 miles from the nearest abortion clinic.

    The Fifth Circuits Unsound Reasoning

    Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, the Fifth Circuit had overturned most of a district court’s decision striking down this dangerous requirement. The law requires that abortion providers obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic and the requirement that clinics providing abortion services meet the standards for ambulatory surgery centers. The Fifth Circuit also held that the requirements could be applied to the sole abortion provider in El Paso, Texas because women in that region would be able to travel to an abortion provider in Santa Teresa, New Mexico. However, the Court did enjoin the state from requiring the sole abortion provider and clinic in the Rio Grande Valley to comply with the admitting privileges requirement and two of the requirements for ambulatory surgery center.

    These restrictions, often called targeted regulations of abortion providers or TRAP laws, are opposed by major medical organizations including  the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association (AMA) because they “imposes[] government regulation on abortion care that jeopardizes the health of women.” As both ACOG and the AMA note, abortions are an extremely safe procedure and complications requiring hospitalization are incredibly rare. There is no medical reason to require abortion providers to have admitting privileges nor is there any reason for abortion facilities to comply with more stringent requirements than other medical facilities that perform procedures with similar, or even greater, risks.

    Yet in upholding the abortion restrictions, the Fifth Circuit ignored the medical evidence, stating that the district court erred in weighing the burdens imposed by the restrictions against the medical efficacy of the restrictions.  The Supreme Court has never upheld a law that limits abortion services without first establishing that the law furthers a valid state interest. In addition, both the Ninth and Seventh Circuits have held that the courts must “weigh the burdens against the state’s justification, asking whether and to what extent the challenged regulation actually advances the state’s interest.” Such an inquiry is necessary to determine whether the restrictions impose an undue burden on a woman’s constitutionally protected right to abortion. As the Supreme Court stated in City of Akron, “The existence of a compelling state interest in health . . . is only the beginning of the inquiry. The State’s regulation may be upheld only if it is reasonably designed to further that state interest.”

    Texas Abortion Restrictions Threaten Womens Health

    Although the stay is good news for Texas women, it doesn’t undo the damage done by other abortion restrictions including provisions of HB2 that have already gone into effect.  Since 2013, when HB2 was passed, more than 20 abortion clinics in the state have closed.  As a result of these closures, many women seeking abortions were turned away from clinics and some of those women were unable to obtain abortions.

  • January 30, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Kelli Garcia, Senior Counsel, National Women's Law Center

    Between 2011 and 2013, politicians in 30 states enacted 205 abortion restrictions, ranging from outright and unconstitutional abortion bans to laws intended to make it impossible for providers to offer abortion. Last year alone, fifteen states adopted 26 new restrictions that limit or impede access to abortion, making it harder and sometimes impossible for women to exercise their constitutionally protected right to abortion. This wave of anti-abortion activity has dramatically changed the country’s landscape for women seeking an abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2013, more than half the states had at least four abortion restrictions in effect

    These multiple restrictions compound and, for many women, make it impossible to obtain an abortion. In Texas, for example, a woman seeking a medication abortion has to make four separate trips to the provider because of the restrictive laws that exist in that state. She is forced to undergo and view an ultrasound, listen to a description of the fetus' development, wait 24 hours, and then has to make two trips for medication abortion because Texas forces providers to use an outdated protocol rather than following current evidence-based medical practice. And this is if she can actually reach a provider - one out of six women in Texas will have to travel 150 miles or more to reach an abortion provider.

    These laws impose unnecessary monetary costs. These costs are particularly devastating to low-income and poor women who already face significant barriers accessing care. The cost of the abortion itself can be prohibitive, especially when politicians force women to pay out of pocket by prohibiting insurance coverage of abortion. Then, women must arrange for and receive time off work, most likely without pay. They might have to pay for childcare, find a place to stay or make multiple roundtrips to distant clinics, and/or find reliable transportation.  As one provider aptly noted, “[T]he vast majority of women can’t add those travel costs to the cost of an abortion or they can’t take off work.” These restrictions chip away at women’s right to abortion by creating so many barriers that abortion becomes unobtainable.

  • December 1, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Emily J. Martin, National Women's Law Center. She is the Vice President and General Counsel of the NWLC.

    “Come back when you’re not pregnant.”  That’s what Peggy Young testifies her supervisor told her after her medical provider advised that she avoid lifting more than 20 pounds for the remainder of her pregnancy.  Young, a UPS driver from Landover, Maryland, was forced out onto unpaid leave without company health benefits. On December 3, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in her pregnancy discrimination case, Young v. UPS.  The case marks the first time the Court will hear a case critical to both women’s health and economic security since the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision in June, when five Justices held that Hobby Lobby and other companies could ignore the legal requirement that they include coverage of birth control in their health insurance plans if they had religious objections to contraception.  The Young case will be an important test of whether a majority of the Supreme Court continues to have a “blind spot” where women’s issues are concerned. The stakes are high for women and their families.

    Peggy Young was a UPS driver, delivering mostly light air mail packages.  When she became pregnant and was given a lifting restriction, she told UPS she was willing to continue to do her regular job, as it was rare that she had to lift anything heavy, or take a light duty assignment—the sort of reassignment that UPS routinely provided to employees who had disabilities as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act and those with on-the-job injuries and those who had lost their commercial drivers' licenses, whether because of health problems or issues such as DUI convictions.  But UPS said that because of her lifting restriction, it would not permit her to continue to do her regular job.  And it also refused to reassign her, despite the accommodations it provided to other workers with medical restrictions and despite the command of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act that employers treat pregnant workers as well as they treat those who are “similar in ability or inability to work.”  Her family’s financial security was threatened at the moment they needed it the most.

  • October 31, 2013
    Guest Post
    by Emily J. Martin and Cortelyou Kenney, National Women's Law Center. Ms. Martin is the Vice President and General Counsel of the NWLC. Ms. Kenney is a Cross-Cutting Legal Projects Fellow at the NWLC.
    Thirty-five years ago today, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was signed into law, remedying the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision in General Electric Company v. Gilbert which held that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy was not sex discrimination, but rather discrimination between pregnant and non-pregnant persons. Congress acted quickly to rebuke this analysis by passing the PDA, which recognizes what is obvious to most – that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex. The PDA also makes clear that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions must be treated at least as well as other employees “not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” As a result of the PDA, once-common policies – such as forcing pregnant women off the job regardless of their ability to work – are no longer permissible.
    Yet pregnancy discrimination still persists more than a generation after the PDA’s passage. This is in part because stereotypes about pregnant women persist in the workplace, despite the law’s protection. But even more troublingly, pregnancy discrimination also persists because some courts have read the language of the PDA narrowly, ignoring both its plain language and its intent while also limiting its protections for pregnant workers.
    Specifically, courts have opened loopholes in the PDA that have too often left without protection those women who need temporary work accommodations because of pregnancy. Many women work through their pregnancies without any need for accommodation, but some pregnant workers, particularly those who work in more physically demanding or less flexible jobs, need some adjustments in work rules or duties. When their requests for reasonable accommodations – such as being allowed to carry a water bottle, refrain from climbing ladders, or avoid heavy lifting – are refused, pregnant workers must often choose between their paycheck and a healthy pregnancy even when their employers provide similar accommodations to employees who need them because of disability or injury.
  • December 4, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    When the Supreme Court announced in fall 2011 that it would review the constitutionality of the landmark health care reform law, civil rights groups and constitutional experts tried to highlight the lawsuits' threat to  the expansion of Medicaid coverage -- and what it would mean if the Supreme Court adopted the states' arguements against the expansion. If the high court were to decide that Congress had overstepped its spending power by penalizing states for not joining in the expansion of Medicaid it could have a potentially profound impact on other progressive laws, such as the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

    Writing for Slate, Simon Lazarus and Dahlia Lithwick warned that if the high court were to side with the states’ argument against the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid (the states argued that they were being unconstitutionally coerced into expanding Medicaid) then other programs run by the states with federal dollars could be in jeopardy. The ACA sought to expand Medicaid coverage to adults below 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Line. In a 2011 ACS Issue Brief, Lazarus, senior counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center, described the states’ arguments against the Medicaid expansion as proposing “a radical upheaval in applicable constitutional law.”

    But the National Women’s Law Center’s Emily J. Martin in an ACS Issue Brief released today argues that the majority’s spending clause analysis from the high court’s ACA opinion from late June does not pose a danger to the major federal law aimed at stopping discrimination against women – Title IX.

    Title IX, in part, states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance ….”

    Martin, vice president and general counsel at NWLC, provides great detail on why the Roberts Court’s spending clause analysis would not undermine the antidiscrimination law and also notes that even if Title IX were vulnerable to a spending clause challenge based on the ACA decision, it would still survive because it is an appropriate means for Congress to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.