Women's rights

  • January 22, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Sarah Lipton-Lubet, Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office

    It’s been 40 years since the Supreme Court protected a woman’s right to make a decision about whether to have an abortion, and some are still trying to take that right away. In the world of abortion politics that’s dismaying -- but certainly not shocking news.

    It’s been longer still since the Court first protected the right to contraception in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965. And while many of us in the reproductive rights movement have long known that our opposition is keen to limit access to birth control as well, that largely came as news to the public. Watching in disbelief, many turned to activism as the availability of affordable contraception was attacked time and again this last year. Indeed, recently national attention has been laser-focused on birth control -- whether women should have insurance coverage for it, and what to do about the objections of employers who want nothing to do with it.

    The federal contraceptive coverage rule -- one of the greatest advances in women’s health policy in decades -- guarantees insurance coverage of birth control, with an exception for houses of worship. Right off the bat a small but vocal opposition came out swinging, arguing that the rule is an unparalleled violation of religious liberty. These groups did not only want a sweeping set of loopholes, they pushed -- and are still pushing -- for the rule to be dismantled altogether, so that no woman would have its benefits, no matter where she works.

  • January 18, 2013
    by E. Sebastian Arduengo
     
    This month in the American Journal of Public Health, Lynn Paltrow, President of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, published an article paralleling women’s deteriorating access to reproductive care with the system of mass incarceration described in Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow. In the article, Paltrow argues that Roe v. Wade protects the rights of all pregnant women and, if the trajectory of the law is unchanged, women who make decisions that are even unintentionally adverse to their pregnancies will likely end up in jail.
     
    A recent study conducted by National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) found that between the time Roe was decided in 1973 and 2005 there were 413 criminal and civil cases involving the arrest or detention of pregnant women. The analysis of the cases showed that the legal claims used to justify these deprivations of liberty were founded on arguments that the state should be empowered to treat embryos and even fertilized eggs as legally separate from the mother. The study showed that the anti-abortion measures that were the basis of these prosecutions posed a threat to all pregnant women, not just those seeking abortions. For example, when a woman in Utah gave birth   to twins, one of whom was stillborn, she was arrested and charged with homicide on the grounds that her decision to attempt a natural birth instead of a cesarean section resulted in the death of the fetus. Another pregnant woman in Texas smoked marijuana to ease herself through pregnancy and, after giving birth, was charged with delivering a controlled substance to a minor. NAPW’s study also found that for minority women the chances of having a run-in with the law due to a pregnancy are much higher.
     
    As “personhood” measures advance through statehouses across the county, legislators are answering the question of whether a woman’s civil rights end during pregnancy with a resounding “yes.” What’s more, those rights are coming to an end at earlier and earlier points in pregnancy.
     
  • January 17, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    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.

  • January 15, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Since issuing its landmark Roe v. Wade opinion expanding liberty 40 years ago this month, the debate over abortion has only intensified. Indeed, over the last few years state lawmakers have pushed for even more laws aimed at making it incredibly onerous if not impossible for many women to access the medical procedure.

    So did the high court’s Roe ruling spark a backlash and if so, should supporters of marriage equality gird for a similar reaction if the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality? In a post for Balkinization’s “Liberty/Equality: The View from Roe’s 40th and Lawrence’s 10th Anniversaries” conference, ACS Board members Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel tackle the question and conclude, in part, that a backlash against reproductive rights was gathering before the high court issued its Roe opinion in January 1973.

    Greenhouse, former Supreme Court correspondent for The New York Times, and Siegel, a distinguished professor of law at Yale Law School, write that the message emanating from the “premise of the Roe backlash narrative,” is that “minority claimants should stay away from the courts.”

    But that message, Greenhouse and Siegel write, is not correct in all circumstances:

    Of course, judicial decisions, like Roe and Brown, provoke conflict. The question is whether judicial decisions are likely to provoke more virulent forms of political reaction than legislation that vindicates rights. There was, is, and will be conflict over abortion, same-sex marriage, and indeed, the very meaning of equality. When minorities seek to unsettle the status quo and vindicate rights, whether in legislatures, at the polls, or in the courts, there is likely to be conflict and, if the claimants prevail, possibly backlash too. To the question of whether one can avoid conflict over such issues by avoiding courts, the answer from an accurate pre-history of Roe v. Wade is no. The abortion conflict escalated before the Supreme Court ruled.

    Greenhouse, Seigel and an array of other experts on liberty and equality will participate in panel discussions at the Jan. 18 – 19 conference at UCLA School of Law, which is part of the Constitution in 2020 project. (A schedule and listing of panelists is included at the end of this blog post.) See here for registration information.

    Several of the Conference’s panelists are providing guest posts for Balkinization on topics likely to be discussed in detail or touched upon at the gathering. In another of those posts, the ACLU’s Louise Melling examines the legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers’ health care providers offer access to contraceptives. As Melling notes, there are a slew of lawsuits against the contraception policy, and many of them argue that employers’ religious beliefs should trump the ACA’s requirements on contraception.

  • January 9, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    This year marks major anniversaries of several landmark Supreme Court opinions, including two that advanced liberty and equality. In January 1973, the high court in its Roe v. Wade opinion trumpeted liberty by striking a Texas law banning abortion. Equality and liberty were also advanced in June 2003 when a majority of the justices in Lawrence v. Texas invalidated a law targeting sex between consenting adults of the same gender.

    On Jan. 18 – 19 as part of the Constitution in 2020 project, several groups, including ACS, will host “Liberty/Equality: The View from Roe’s 40th and Lawrence’s 10th Anniversaries.” (See below for more information about the gathering, including a tentative conference schedule.)

    In striking down a state law banning abortion, Justice Harry Blackmun declared 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.”

    The Roe court, however, did not find this right to be absolute, and subsequently we have seen an erosion of this liberty in a steady and disconcerting fashion by courts and lawmakers over the years. Indeed a string of states over the past few years has ratcheted up efforts to make it vastly more difficult for many women, especially the young and poor, to have abortions. State lawmakers have also pushed laws requiring physicians to lecture women on the alleged dangers of abortions and/or undergo ultrasounds all in an effort to slow the process or dissuade women from abortions.

    In 2003’s Lawrence, the majority of the court also advanced liberty by knocking down a Texas law that criminalized sex between people of the same gender. And like Roe, the majority found that liberty is broad enough to prevent the government from intruding upon intimate relations of lesbians and gay men. Indeed, Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the Lawrence majority, citied the high court’s 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey opinion upholding Roe. In Casey, the Court wrote, “These matters, involving the most intimate personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

    Kennedy’s Lawrence opinion also advanced equality, saying the challengers of the Texas law persuasively argued that their equal protection rights were subverted by a law that criminalized an intimate part of their relationships.