Legal Wrap: Marriage Equality, Contraception, and the NRA Teaming Up With Anti-Abortion Groups


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

Last week the Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases that may decide whether same-sex marriage bans, and federal laws that discriminate against same-sex marriages, are unconstitutional. While it’s never easy to predict how the court will rule based on oral arguments, I explained one possible outcome here that would be bad for progressives while still striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and keeping in place the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that blocks California’s ban on marriage equality.

Also last week, Lt. Dan Choi was convicted and fined $100 for “failure to obey” in conjunction with a November 2010 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” protest outside of the White House.

There was even more action in the legal battle over the contraception benefit. First, two new lawsuits by for-profit companies were filed, bringing the total number of for-profit business challenging the mandate to 26. Second, the National Women’s Law Center submitted amicus briefs in two more contraception mandate cases: Autocam v. Sebelius in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. v. Sebelius in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Center for Reproductive Right, along with several other groups, also filed an amicus brief in the Hobby Lobby case. This happened just as a full panel of judges agreed to review an earlier decision which ordered Hobby Lobby to comply with the mandate. The decision to have the full Tenth Circuit hear arguments on the mandate could be bad news for women’s health advocates as it might signal a majority of judges disagree with the panel’s earlier ruling.

In Alabama, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn dismissed a suit brought by EWTN Global Catholic Network challenging the mandate on the grounds that since the Obama administration has promised to further amend the contraception mandate’s rules, that mandate was not yet “ripe” for judicial review and would not be until the administration had truly finalized the mandate.

In Missouri, the state’s attorney general, Chris Koster, has asked for clarification from a federal judge who ruled that a Missouri law that would have allowed any business to opt-out of the contraception mandate based on “moral objections” was invalid because it was in direct conflict with federal law.

Meanwhile, attorneys general from Alabama and 12 other states sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asking HHS to offer even broader religious exemptions to the benefit than already exist. The other states that asked for broader exemptions are Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia.

In March, members of the Boston College administration sent a letter to students demanding an end to student-run “Safe Sites,” a network of dorm rooms in campus residence halls that makes free sexual health resources and information available to students. The administration threatened disciplinary action, including expulsion, if the students were to continue dispensing materials and information to their peers. That’s despite the fact that just four years ago, 90 percent of the students at BC voted in favor of creating the Safe Sites. As these three alumni explain, this latest move by the administration to curb access to reproductive health care is part of a long tradition of pushing conservative-Catholic ideology at the expense of science and public health.

Speaking of pushing ideology before science, Imani Gandi reports that although both Plan B and Ella are not abortifacients, false claims that they are may hold up in court.

If these stories make anything clear, it’s that the battle over our courts should be a high priority for reproductive rights advocates. It certainly is for the individuals who are advancing an anti-equality agenda. For instance, the National Rifle Association and the anti-abortion lobby recently joined forces to block yet another of President Obama’s judicial nominees.

Let’s end on some good news. Colorado has joined a growing list of states, including California, Oregon, and the District of Columbia, that expressly prohibit discrimination in health insurance due to sexual orientation or gender identity.

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