Legal Wrap: Another Federal Court Re-Affirms Abortion Rights


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

Abortion rights activists won an enormous victory last week when a panel of judges from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Arizona’s 20-week abortion ban unconstitutional and permanently blocked the bill from becoming law. The law directly takes on one of the central rulings of Roe v. Wade by banning abortions pre-viability. The Ninth Circuit flatly rejected this attempt, calling the right of a woman to access abortion pre-viability “fundamental,” but the argument tees up the issue for the Roberts court should it want to revisit the issue of whether or not states can ban abortion pre-viability, which could happen as early as next term.

Is it deja vu all over again, or an attempt to fast-track a challenge to Roe v. Wade? Rep. Trent Franks’ (R-AZ) is pushing a nationwide 20-week abortion ban and held hearings on the measure, despite the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision ruling a nearly identical Arizona law unconstitutional. And who did Rep. Franks hear from in determining whether a nationwide 20-week abortion ban was necessary? All men, of course.

Last week the Roberts court agreed to hear a case that could radically re-define the nature of religious rights in this country generally, and more specifically could greatly expand the role of prayer in government. The last time the court specifically ruled on the issue of the constitutionality of government prayer rituals was over 30 years ago, when (believe it or not) the court was far less conservative then it is now. For all of us who value the separation of church and state, this should give us pause.

Continuing in the vein of radically re-defining religious rights in this country, last week two different federal appeals courts heard arguments in cases of secular, for-profit businesses challenging the contraception benefit in Obamacare. While a ruling in theses challenges isn’t expected for several months, by legal standards the challenges to the birth control benefit are rocketing through the judicial system and are poised to land before the Supreme Court by as early as next year.

The next Supreme Court term is shaping up to be even more historic than the one that’s coming to a close next month. Much like last year, the term will close with decisions in its biggest cases, including challenges to affirmative action, voting rights, same-sex marriage, human gene patents, and the power of the president to make recess appointments.

In other court news, Sri Srinivasan was finally confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals after a prolonged nomination battle that saw at least one arguably more qualified candidate filibustered, despite Republican assurances to approve all judicial nominations. Srinivasan’s appointment must have motivated the Obama administration, which is now promising more nominees to one of the most important, and busiest, appeals courts in the nation. It’s good news, but it underscores the disappointment many of us in the legal community have with the administration for dragging its feet on judicial nominations. Who will President Obama nominate? We don’t have any names yet, but ThinkProgress put together this list of potential Obama administration Supreme Court nominees, and among those listed are a few who could fill the slots.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit arguing officials in South Carolina performed unnecessary sex-assignment surgery on a child in their custody. The lawsuit argues that the child, who was born intersex, was forced to undergo unnecessary and complicated surgery to “pick” a sex while still a toddler and that such a practice goes against the standards of medical care.

Many state legislative sessions are wrapping up now, and in places like Virginia parties are choosing candidates for the 2014 elections. For Virginia Republicans, that means moving forward with a push to criminalize pregnant women by nominating a man for attorney general who sponsored a bill that would have made it a crime not to report a “fetal death” within 24 hours.

As the right hones in on more and more restrictions to abortion care, Sarah Erdreich breaks down the fallacy of rape, incest, and life endangerment clauses in abortion law and explains how they serve to create two distinct classes of women: those who “deserve” abortions and those who do not.

Sheila Bapat explains how recent proposals to reduce the cost of student debt could benefit women over the course of their lives since, according to earning statistics, even with college degrees women still earn less then men. But, as Bapat notes, these proposals may not go far enough.

Lastly, some good news. Vermont home health-care workers may soon have collective bargaining rights, departing from a national trend to minimize union rights and presence in the workplace.

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Follow Jessica Mason Pieklo on twitter: @hegemommy