Legal Wrap: Beatriz and the Dangers of Abortion Bans


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

The tragic story of Beatriz, the young Salvadorian woman whose life has hung in the balance while the Catholic Church fiddled with granting her permission to terminate a pregnancy that, if continued, would have kill her, is a lesson in what happens when religious ideology comes before the non-biased delivery of health care. Marge Berer forcefully argues that Beatriz’ treatment should be a call to action to strip Catholic hospitals of their right to provide maternity care.

Planned Parenthood Montana sued to block two laws designed to make it more difficult for minors to access abortion care in the state. The first law challenged in the lawsuit is the state’s new parental consent law. The law, passed this session, requires parental permission for anyone under age 18 before terminating a pregnancy. The lawsuit also challenges the state’s less stringent parental notification law, which requires that the parents of anyone under age 16 be notified prior to a pregnancy termination.

The recent decision by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to block Arizona’s 20-week abortion ban strongly re-affirmed the right of a woman to choose abortion prior to fetal viability with minimal interference by the state. Here I ask if fetal viability is such a good legal standard for abortion rights activists after all.

It’s not just Arizona’s 20-week abortion ban making its way through the federal court system. Last week the American Civil Liberties Union sued to block the state’s race- and sex-selection abortion ban, arguing the law is racially discriminatory and based on improper racial stereotypes about who seeks abortions.

It took them three tries, but the California Assembly passed a domestic workers’ bill of rights. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has a history of vetoing such measures, but it’s unclear if he’ll veto this latest version or not.

The other defendants in the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell were sentenced, including a clinic worker and Gosnell’s wife.

Anti-choice activists in Oklahoma are hoping the Supreme Court will step in and overturn an Oklahoma state supreme court decision that said a state law banning “off-label” use of abortion-inducing drugs is unconstitutional. The Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice recently submitted a briefing to the Supreme Court to explain why the lower court’s decision was correct and why the Supreme Court should stay out of the dispute. The Roberts court is expected to decide sometime in June whether to take the Oklahoma case for review.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that administers the Medicaid program, rejected Indiana’s appeal of an administrative ruling that bars the state from denying Planned Parenthood Medicaid funding because some Planned Parenthood centers offer abortion care. The agency decision is separate from another court case involving the same law. The Supreme Court just recently refused to review a lower court’s finding that the law was unconstitutional.

Just because the federal courts say defunding Planned Parenthood solely because of ties to abortion care is unconstitutional doesn’t mean the state of Arizona is going to try and stop doing it.

Attorneys for the state of Arkansas asked a federal judge to uphold the so-called informed consent part of the a new state law banning abortions at approximately 12 weeks, because the law, while unconstitutional, was passed to “protect” women. The attorneys want the court to uphold the part of the law that requires doctors to inform women seeking an abortion if a heartbeat is detected and the statistical likelihood of the child surviving based on its gestational age. The federal court has already blocked enforcement of the 12-week ban which had been set to take effect in August.

President Obama announced four new federal court nominees last week, and each continues the president’s goal of bringing diversity to the federal bench. As reported by the People for the American Way, 42 percent of President Obama’s confirmed judicial nominees have been women, compared with just 22 percent of those nominated by the second President Bush and 29 percent of those nominated by President Clinton. Likewise, 46 percent of his confirmed nominees have been people of color. This is a significant change from the previous administration, where 82 percent of federal judicial nominees were white. Also, President Obama has nominated more openly gay people to federal judgeships than all of his predecessors combined. Republicans must be taking notice because they have blocked more of the president’s judicial nominees than any other sitting president in this country’s history.

Finally, yet another federal appellate court heard arguments in the litany of lawsuits challenging the birth control benefit in Obamacare last week as an attorney representing Mennonite owners of a for-profit family furniture manufacturing company asked the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia to block the mandate because it violates their right to religious expression.

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