Pro-choice groups sue three states over bans

Carry mo­men­tum from Supreme Court

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY BRAD­FORD RICHARD­SON

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court de­ci­sion strik­ing down safety re­quire­ments on abor­tion clin­ics in Texas, Planned Par­ent­hood and other pro-choice groups are su­ing three states over their reg­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing a ban on abor­tions af­ter 20 weeks of preg­nancy.

The law­suits were filed last Wed­nes­day in Alaska, Missouri and North Carolina. The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union and the Cen­ter for Re­pro­duc­tive Rights are join­ing Planned Par­ent­hood in the cases.

Julie Rikel­man, in­terim vice pres­i­dent of the U.S. Le­gal Pro­gram for the Cen­ter for Re­pro­duc­tive Rights, said the Supreme Court made clear in its Whole Woman’s Health v. Heller­st­edt de­ci­sion in June “that states can­not pass sham re­stric­tions in or­der to block ac­cess to re­pro­duc­tive health care.”

“To­day we’re tak­ing ac­tion to stop these po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated state laws, to en­sure that women have safe, le­gal and high­qual­ity care,” Ms. Rikel­man said. “We’re con­tin­u­ing to de­fend the right of women to make de­ci­sions that af­fect their health, their lives, their fam­i­lies and their fu­tures.”

The North Carolina law bans abor­tions af­ter 20 weeks of preg­nancy, which many see as the point when un­born chil­dren can feel pain. Eigh­teen states pro­hibit abor­tions at that stage.

The law­suit ar­gues that the ban is un­con­sti­tu­tional be­cause it pre­vents women from ob­tain­ing pre-vi­a­bil­ity abor­tions, say­ing the 20-week mark is “at least sev­eral weeks prior to vi­a­bil­ity.”

Pe­ti­tion­ers in Heller­st­edt in­ten­tion­ally avoided chal­leng­ing Texas’ ban on abor­tions af­ter 20 weeks, and the case against North Carolina does not cite that de­ci­sion.

John East­man, found­ing direc­tor of the Clare­mont In­sti­tute’s Cen­ter for Con­sti­tu­tional Ju­rispru­dence, said that is re­veal­ing.

“If they re­ally thought they had a win­ning hand here, they would have brought the chal­lenge in the 5th Cir­cuit against the Texas law,” Mr. East­man said, adding that the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the 4th Cir­cuit, un­der which North Carolina falls, is “pretty solidly on the left.”

The reg­u­la­tions at is­sue in Heller­st­edt held abor­tion clin­ics to the safety stan­dards of am­bu­la­tory sur­gi­cal cen­ters and re­quired abor­tion providers to have ad­mit­ting priv­i­leges at nearby hos­pi­tals.

Pe­ti­tion­ers ar­gued that those reg­u­la­tions led to the clo­sures of sev­eral abor­tion clin­ics in Texas, es­pe­cially on the more sparsely pop­u­lated western half of the state. The court ruled that the health and safety ben­e­fits de­rived from the reg­u­la­tions did not out­weigh the bur­den they im­posed on women trav­el­ing greater dis­tances to ob­tain abor­tions.

Ms. Rikel­man said the reg­u­la­tions be­ing chal­lenged in Missouri are “very sim­i­lar” to those struck down in Texas.

“The un­just and med­i­cally un­nec­es­sary re­stric­tions in Missouri have re­duced the num­ber of health care cen­ters pro­vid­ing abor­tion in that state to just one,” she said. “They’re very sim­i­lar to the sham laws the Supreme Court re­jected as un­con­sti­tu­tional.”

Planned Par­ent­hood in St. Louis is the only abor­tion clinic in the state, which had 29 abor­tion providers in 1982.

Reg­u­la­tions on abor­tion have been struck down or blocked in Alabama, Alaska, Ari­zona, Oklahoma and Wis­con­sin in re­sponse to the Heller­st­edt de­ci­sion.

Mr. East­man said the fate of the Missouri reg­u­la­tions will largely turn on the facts of the case.

“The Missouri one — it’s very fact­spe­cific,” he said. “One of the things that trig­gered the con­cern in Whole Woman’s Health is that, be­cause of the am­bu­la­tory care reg­u­la­tion, a lot of the ex­ist­ing abor­tion clin­ics were clos­ing down. I think the case ev­i­dence was fairly week on the cau­sa­tion of that. It’s go­ing to be very fact-spe­cific.”

The Alaska reg­u­la­tions be­ing chal­lenged in­clude a law re­quir­ing abor­tion clin­ics to be out­fit­ted for “ma­jor” surgery.

Ms. Rikel­man said Alaska’s ge­og­ra­phy im­poses an es­pe­cially harsh bur­den on women who must travel to other states for abor­tions.

“This med­i­cally un­nec­es­sary road­block means women who need an abor­tion in the sec­ond trimester must travel out of state for care, a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge given the ge­og­ra­phy of Alaska, if they can get that care at all,” she said. “The law im­poses great fi­nan­cial and emo­tional bur­dens on Alaska women and their fam­i­lies and en­closes their ac­cess to care.”

Mr. East­man con­curred that there are par­al­lels be­tween the court’s rea­son­ing in Heller­st­edt and the Alaska law­suit.

“Alaska, the dis­tance un­der Whole Woman’s Health, is go­ing to be a bit of a prob­lem,” he said.

Dr. Rae­gan McDon­ald-Mosley, chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer for Planned Par­ent­hood Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­ica, said these law­suits mark the first step to­ward strik­ing down lo­cal reg­u­la­tions on abor­tion across the board.

“We’re go­ing to fight back state by state and law by law un­til ev­ery per­son has the right to the life that they want, in­clud­ing peo­ple who de­cide to end a preg­nancy,” Ms. McDon­ald-Mosley said.

But Mr. East­man said con­ser­va­tives still hold the trump card.

“By the time this gets to the Supreme Court, we may have a dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent Supreme Court,” he said.

He said the North Carolina law­suit could ul­ti­mately back­fire and lead to the re­peal of Roe v. Wade.

“I would love it,” Mr. East­man said. “Let the ACLU and Planned Par­ent­hood be the trig­ger for the case that ac­tu­ally over­rules Roe v. Wade.”


A pro-life ac­tivist stands out in a rally for Planned Par­ent­hood, which has filed law­suits in North Carolina, Missouri and Alaska chal­leng­ing laws that it views as un­con­sti­tu­tional re­stric­tions on abor­tion rights.

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