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.
Forty years after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated on constitutional grounds a state law banning abortion, large swaths of the public may be more supportive of a woman’s right to make decisions regarding health, but state and federal lawmakers remain obsessed with limiting reproductive rights. The ongoing challenges to protect liberty of women were the focus of a recent ACS panel discussion at Georgetown University Law Center.
The Jan. 23 panel discussion kicked off with opening remarks by ACS President Caroline Fredrickson, who talked about how Roe v. Wade sadly marked the high-water point of reproductive rights, because ever since then federal and state lawmakers have been chipping away at it. One of the first efforts to erode liberty started with passage of the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which prevents the federal government from funding abortions through Medicaid – the primary source of health insurance for millions of low income women, and continue to fall with the myriad restrictions on abortion that serve no purpose but to harass women. (See video of panel discussion here.)
Former Acting U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger followed Fredrickson, and maintained that Roe was not about choice -- it was about the right to an abortion. He also criticized the Supreme Court’s decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, noting that if the government really wanted to curb late-term abortions, it should stop obstructing abortion early in pregnancy. Dellinger was followed by Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, who discussed the mounting legislative attacks on abortion. In the last two years, she said, there have been 162 new abortion restrictions passed by the states. Things have gotten so onerous that in some states, like Mississippi, there’s only a single abortion provider left in the entire state. That clinic is under continuing threat, as the state is requiring doctors at the clinic to have admitting privileges at local hospitals – a burden that makes running a clinic financially impossible.
The Supreme Court today revived challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate and contraceptive coverage provision. The challenge, brought by Liberty University, has now been given new life. With its 5-4 ruling in June, the Court held that the ACA and its coverage provisions were constitutional. Now, the future of the mandate is a bit hazier.
Though the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case, Liberty University v. Geithner, in September, the Supreme Court today ordered the appeals court to rehear the challenge, opening the door to what could be a significant legal battle. Liberty University, a Christian college founded by the controversial TV preacher Jerry Falwell, brought the suit saying the ACA violated its First Amendment rights as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by requiring the school to provide insurance that could be used for abortions.
The Fourth Circuit based its dismissal of the university’s case on standing, saying it could not challenge a tax that had yet to be implemented. However, in its ruling on the ACA, Talking Points Memo reports, “the Supreme Court dismissed the standing argument, implicitly conceding that taxpayers may challenge the ACA’s mandates, even ones that have yet to take effect — providing Liberty an opening to move forward with its case.”
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.
Twenty years ago this month, a bitterly divided Supreme Court handed down Planned Parenthood v. Casey, one of the most important opinions delivered by the Court on the meaning of the Constitution’s protection of liberty and equality for all Americans. In a landmark joint opinion, authored by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor, and David Souter, a narrow five-Justice majority reaffirmed what they called the “essential holding of Roe,” beating back a twenty-year assault on the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade and the notion that the Constitution protects substantive fundamental rights not enumerated elsewhere in the Constitution. In the process, the Justices rooted protection of a woman’s right to reproductive choice, not in a generalized right of privacy as Roe had, but in a woman’s right to bodily integrity, to personal liberty, and to equal citizenship. (For more discussion, see CAC’s Crossroads Chapter on Reproductive Freedom). As a senior in college at the time, I had the incredibly good fortune of working on the legal team representing Planned Parenthood at the Supreme Court – alongside brilliant and courageous attorneys Kitty Kolbert and Linda Wharton – and to this day my work on Casey is still one of the proudest moments of my career in the law.
Casey’s understanding of constitutional protection for personal liberty and equality drew on the Court’s precedents going back 70 years and the doctrine of stare decisis. The joint opinion forcefully demonstrated that keeping faith with the Court’s precedents required reaffirming constitutional protection for a woman’s right to reproductive choice, while the dissenters argued that these precedents had to be jettisoned. Two decades later, thanks to the work of Jack Balkin, Reva Siegel, Dawn Johnsen and others, there is more basic foundation of support for Casey’s understanding of fundamental constitutional principles: the Constitution’s text and history. Contrary to conventional wisdom, both Casey’s analysis of the protection of substantive fundamental rights and of gender equality has deep roots in our Constitution’s text and history. Supporters of Roe and Casey should embrace these sources – just as much as precedent – in defending a woman’s right to reproductive freedom against attacks by conservatives.