Women's rights

  • July 11, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Aziza Ahmed, Professor of Law at Northeastern University School of Law

    The United States has long been the largest bi-lateral donor in family planning assistance. Amongst other health services, this funding is dedicated to promoting reproductive health services, providing modern forms of contraception and responding to needs in maternal health care. In 1984, at the International Conference on Population in Mexico City, then President Ronald Regan announced the Mexico City Policy or what has come to be known as the “Global Gag Rule.” The policy mandated that United States family planning funding could not be used to “perform or actively promote abortions as a method of family planning.” The Mexico City Policy added restrictions to the Helms Amendment passed in 1973 which prohibits United States Foreign Assistance from paying for “the performance of abortions as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” The Helms Amendment, however, only applied to U.S. government money – non-U.S. funding could be utilized to provide abortion related services. The Mexico City Policy goes much further: mandating that U.S. government funds would not be given to non-governmental organizations who provide abortion related services with their own funding or funding from other sources. In other words, organizations receiving U.S. money would have to choose whether to refuse U.S. funds (risking closure) or turn away women needing abortion related services. In announcing the Mexico City Policy, Reagan further ensconced U.S. family planning assistance in domestic abortion politics and policy, placing the lives and health of people residing in countries where U.S. aid supplemented health services on reproductive health at significant risk.

    Since its inception, each Republican Administration has reinstated the rule while each Democratic administration (with some exception) has stopped its application to U.S. foreign assistance. Each time the policy is renewed or revoked days after the change in administration – making the Mexico City Policy a way to cater to the political base of the newly elected party. There has been subtle acknowledgement even from Republicans that the Mexico City Policy has a negative impact on health programming. The George W. Bush administration, for example, which initiated the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a multi-billion dollar initiative aimed at the prevention and treatment of HIV, limited the application of the Mexico City Policy to HIV/AIDS money despite the conservative anti-choice rhetoric of the party.

  • May 25, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece is part of the ACSblog Symposium: 2017 ACS National Convention. The symposium will consider topics featured at the three day convention, scheduled for June 8-10, 2017. Learn more about the Convention here

    by Jamille Fields, Policy Analyst, Government Relations at Planned Parenthood Federation of America

    We are not long past President Trump’s first 100 days and the start of this new Congress. Despite this short timeframe, there have been several legal and policy proposals that threaten reproductive rights and women’s health care access more broadly. Here are six ways in which reproductive rights have been threatened since the start of this year alone:

    1.     Attempting to Block Access to Planned Parenthood

    The American Health Care Act (AHCA) not only attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which greatly advances women’s health care, but also includes a politically motivated provision that would block low-income women and men enrolled in the Medicaid program from using their coverage to receive services at Planned Parenthood. This provision is the only non-health insurance related provision in the bill and the intent is clear--restrict low-income individuals’ access to the provider of their choice and block people’s access to safe and legal abortion. If the bill becomes law, it will harm the 2.5 million people who annually visit Planned Parenthood health centers to access birth control, cancer screenings, STI counseling, HIV treatment and other preventive health care services. Unlike most other parts of the bill, this provision would take effect immediately.

  • May 19, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece is part of the ACSblog Symposium: 2017 ACS National Convention. The symposium will consider topics featured at the three day convention, scheduled for June 8-10, 2017. Learn more about the Convention here

    by Stephanie Toti, Reproductive Rights Advocate

    In an unbroken line of precedent spanning more than four decades, the Supreme Court has consistently held that a woman’s right to end a pregnancy is a fundamental component of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The right at stake encompasses not merely the right to obtain an abortion procedure, but also, more broadly, “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Planned Parenthood of Se. Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 851 (1992). Despite seemingly relentless efforts by anti-choice advocates to undermine, overrule, or chip away at this right, it remains on solid constitutional footing. Last year’s historic decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, 579 U.S. __, 136 S. Ct. 2292 (2016), provides a potent reaffirmation of the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence, clarifying both the robust nature of the protection the Constitution affords to “the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy” Casey, 505 U.S. at 851, and the role of the courts in enforcing that protection.

  • April 11, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece is part of the ACSblog symposium: "The Future of the U.S. Constitution

    by Pamela S. Karlan, ACS Board Member and Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law, Co-Director of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, Stanford Law School

    “Always it is by bridges that we live,” the poet Philip Larkin wrote. One of the problems with the way we have tried to build a more just constitutional law is our failure to draw lessons across constitutional subfields – to build constitutional bridges.

    Several years ago, I published an article in the Indiana Law Journal called “Taking Politics Religiously: How Free Exercise and Establishment Clause Cases Illuminate the Law of Democracy.” It is an example of what I mean by building constitutional bridges: I used themes developed in the religion clause cases – like the “radical” idea that “[f]ree people are entitled to free and diverse thoughts, which government ought neither to constrain nor to direct,” that the Constitution should combat the creation of an outsider class and that it should prevent capture and exploitation of the machinery of government – to suggest how we ought to think about political party regulation, redistricting and campaign finance.

    Now, I want to begin a conversation about two areas of law that might seem rather disconnected from one another: voting rights and reproductive justice. I often joke about that connection: politics, like reproduction, combines lofty goals, deep passions about identity and instincts for self-preservation, increasing reliance on technology and often a need – as the Supreme Court put it in a redistricting case – to “pull” and “haul” rather indelicately at the very end. And of course, it often involves somebody getting screwed.

  • April 10, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece is part of the ACSblog symposium: "The Future of the U.S. Constitution"

    by Reva Siegel, ACS Board Member and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Professor of Law, Yale Law School

    An aroused public can shape judicial appointments, and shape law.

    Only a few constitutional cases provoke sustained public engagement. But in those few cases where the public is fiercely engaged, judges often respond. Justice Kennedy expressly acknowledged public deliberation about same-sex marriage in Windsor and Obergefell. Justice Scalia, who denounced the living Constitution, wrote an originalist opinion in Heller responding to the claims of living Americans opposed to gun control.

    Mobilization can influence not only the outcome of cases, but even their reasoning. Opponents of health care spread fear of death panels and government-mandated consumption of broccoli, and, in the process, transformed constitutional arguments against the law from “off the wall” to “on the wall.” In Sebelius, the Justices addressed Congress’s power to enact the health care law in opinions that repeatedly discussed vegetables and the importance of protecting individual liberties.

    *   *   *

    Looking back over a half century of abortion conflict, we can see this dynamic in action and imagine new forms it might take.

    For decades, supporters of the abortion right sought protection for women’s health, liberty and equality, while opponents sought protection for unborn life. The Court balanced these claims in Roe’s trimester framework and in Casey’s undue burden standard.