In a bit of poetic timing, a federal court of appeals issued a new decision upholding women's rights on the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The case, Roe v. Crawford, concerns the near total ban on abortion access implemented by the Missouri prison system in 2005.
The policy is so blatantly unconstitutional that not a single judge sided with it. All three judges hearing the case on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the policy violates, indeed completely eliminates, women's right to abortion.
In terms of interpretation, however, the decision is a mixed bag. The court repeatedly knocked down arguments put forth by the Missouri government to justify its policy, finding that any burdens and risks imposed by taking women outside the prison for medical care were outweighed by women's clearly established right to an abortion.
But the court rejected the argument that "elective, non-therapeutic" abortions are "serious medical needs" meriting special regard under the Eighth Amendment (which specifically protects the rights of people in prison). This definitional dispute demonstrates once again how unsettled ideas about abortion still are – what does it mean to call abortion either "elective" or "necessary"? Is abortion "just like" any other medical procedure or is it different because of the many medical and non-medical consequences for women of continuing a pregnancy to term?
The Missouri government has not yet said whether it will appeal, although it would be surprising if it did not, given its vigorous defense of its policy thus far, and given the overall drive to enact policies limiting access to abortion in the state.