Legal Wrap: A Big Win in Idaho, and Companies Fighting Contraception Coverage


Legal Wrap is a weekly round-up of key legal reproductive rights and justice news.

Reproductive rights advocates got a big win last week when a federal judge in Idaho struck a series of Idaho abortion restrictions, including the state’s 20-week “fetal pain” abortion ban, which requires first-trimester abortions to be performed by a physician in a staffed office or clinic, making most medical abortions illegal. The judge also struck a restriction requiring second-trimester abortions to be performed in a hospital as well as a statute that criminalizes the act of self-abortion. The sweeping decision takes the Idaho legislature to task for passing restrictions that are so clearly unconstitutional and designed to target and punish women. As good a decision as this is, the case is probably not over. Anti-choice activists will likely appeal the decision to the Ninth Circuit, a necessary intermediate step before petitioning for U.S. Supreme Court review and a challenge to Roe v. Wade, which is the ultimate goal of these restrictions.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt announced that the state has filed a request with the U.S. Supreme Court to review a unanimous Oklahoma Supreme Court decision striking an Oklahoma law that banned the off-label use of RU-486. The chance of U.S. Supreme Court review of a unanimous state supreme court decision interpreting state law is so remote it raises questions about why Pruitt would waste the resources. One answer might be his 2014 re-election campaign.

There are now 50 lawsuits challenging the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act on the grounds that mandating contraception coverage in insurance plans is a violation of religious liberties. Here are 18 for-profit companies fighting to eliminate that benefit.

It looks like we’ll have to update that list to 19, because Colorado mortgage banking company Cherry Creek Mortgage has just filed suit challenging the mandate as well. Cherry Creek Mortgage is owned by former U.S. Senator Bill Armstrong and does business in 27 states. The company has 730 employees and is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom in its lawsuit.

The argument that corporations have religious rights they can exercise is of course shadow play for businesses to evade providing equal benefits to their employees. Imani Gandy breaks down the straw-man argument here, in a discussion of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and his anemic amicus brief filed in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in the Hobby Lobby contraception challenge.

Emma Caterine of the Red Umbrella Project has this great piece on the devastating public health impact of police using the possession of condoms as evidence of sex work and how the practice has led to a proliferation of gender-based violence by law enforcement.

We got a reminder during oral arguments in Shelby Co. v. Holder, the voting rights challenge, that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is one strong advocate for civil rights and social justice. Here’s another. Eleven-year-old Cameron Myers Milne wrote the justice a letter asking that the Supreme Court strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to help her lesbian parents. While ethical rules prevent Sotomayor from commenting on the challenge to the law, her response is still awesome.

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