Legal Wrap: New Legal Fights Shaping Up Post-‘Hobby Lobby’


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

The dust is still settling from the Supreme Court’s disastrous ruling in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, but it’s safe to say that neither the issue of conservatives trying to use religious freedom arguments to mask intentional discrimination nor litigation surrounding the Affordable Care Act are going away any time soon. Two federal appeals courts are split on whether or not the Affordable Care Act allows the federal government to subsidize insurance premiums in federally run exchanges; I explain what happened here.

Meanwhile, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), arguing that members of Congress and their employees should be ineligible for subsidies to cover their premium costs.

That didn’t stop Republicans from taking steps to sue the president over delays in implementing the health-care law Republicans obstructed in order to prevent its implementation entirely.

In response to the Hobby Lobby decision, Democratic lawmakers have renewed the push for an Equal Rights Amendment.

That’s better than the Obama administration’s response, which is apparently to try and give more concessions to conservative religious objectors.

At least the executive order banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in federal contracts signed by President Obama doesn’t include an enormous carve-out for conservatives with a religious objection to equality.

On the flip side, a nurse who has a religious objection to contraception has filed a lawsuit against a family planning center in Florida that did not hire her. Sara Hellwege applied for a job at Tampa Family Health Centers, a family planning clinic that receives federal Title X funding. During the hiring process, Hellwege told staff she would be unwilling to prescribe birth control if hired. Hellwege now claims the clinic’s refusal to hire her amounts to discrimination on the basis of her religious objections to contraception.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen argued in a brief before a federal appeals court in a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage that marriage equality, just like abortion, is not really a fundamental right because the state has the power to make accessing that right more difficult, if not impossible.

Good news! Massachusetts responds to the McCullen v. Coakley decision by passing new legislation designed to protect abortion patients and providers from anti-choice harassment.

Elsewhere, a New Hampshire judge delayed arguments in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a new law creating buffer zones of up to 25 feet around abortion clinics after the state’s attorney general agreed not to enforce the law.

Pro-Life Mississippi filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Jackson, Mississippi, police department, accusing the department of “blatant and ongoing” violations of the protesters’ First Amendment rights.

In Florida, a judge ruled that zoning restrictions prevent a new Planned Parenthood facility in Kissimmee from performing abortions.

The Federal Election Commission dismissed a complaint brought by Operation Rescue against the political action committee of the Trust Women Foundation, the organization responsible for opening a clinic on the site of Dr. George Tiller’s former clinic in Wichita, Kansas.

In abortion restriction-related news, anti-choice advocates are trying to get a federal appeals court to overturn a ruling blocking Idaho’s 20-week abortion ban, while a Wisconsin judge clarified that under new restrictions doctors need not be present when a woman takes drugs prescribed to her for a medical abortion.

Legal advocacy groups filed a class-action lawsuit accusing Tennessee lawmakers of adopting policies that unlawfully delay and deny health coverage to people eligible for Medicaid.

The Montana Supreme Court publicly censured for misconduct a judge who had sentenced an admitted rapist to only 30 days in jail because his 14-year-old victim “appeared older than her chronological age.”

Sarah Kliff has this piece that looks at the links between states that deny anti-psychotic medications to the poor and high numbers of mentally ill individuals in prisons.

Finally, Zoe Greenberg has this must-read on anti-choice advocacy groups’ efforts to stack state courts.

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Follow Jessica Mason Pieklo on twitter: @hegemommy