US Capitol police officers line-up in front of pro-abortion rights demonstrators on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, at the Supreme Court in Washington.
A looming Supreme Court case that could severely undermine the right to an abortion has attracted an unprecedented amount of opposition from across the country.
A slew of organizations and individuals filed 45 legal briefs in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, each brief examining the case through a unique lens and each coming to the same conclusion: State laws that restrict abortion access are unconstitutional.
The case will examine the validity of a Texas law, known as HB2, that places burdensome, unnecessary guidelines on the state’s dwindling abortion clinics. These regulations, while framed as improvements to safeguard “women’s health,” ultimately have nothing to do with patient safety — and were instead created by anti-abortion legislators to impose additional, costly red tape on clinic staff. So far, it’s been successful. HB2 has already forced half of the state’s clinics to close, thus cutting Texas’ abortion providers in half.
The Supreme Court case, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, won’t only decide if Texas’ law is constitutional. Depending how the court rules, the decision could also give legal cover to all states seeking to enact laws that appear to function as health regulations, but that actually exist to restrict access to abortion. The oral arguments for the case begin in March.
Reproductive rights advocates have been outspoken since HB2 passed in 2013, but since the Supreme Court’s November decision to hear the case, the diversity of opponents has grown. The 45 briefs were filed by a variety of petitioners, including physicians, historians, religious leaders, military officers, scientists, members of Congress, civil rights advocates, law scholars, entire cities, and the United States federal government itself.
“Never before has such a diverse array of organizations and leaders…stepped forward to condemn abortion restrictions at the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement.
Among the briefs were voices of actual women who’ve been affected by the lack of abortion access in the past — a voice some say is forgotten in the high-level case.
“The Supreme Court justices need to hear the real effects of restrictive abortion laws on women like this one in Texas,” said Debra Hauser, the president of Advocates for Youth, a group helping young people access comprehensive sexual health education. Hauser shared her personal experience with abortion in her organization’s brief.
“What is missing from this issue are our personal stories. The reality is that one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime.”
Many of those women shared their stories in another brief submitted Tuesday, representing 110 law professionals who’ve had abortions. Some noted how they would have never had the chance to become a lawyer if they hadn’t had an abortion when they did.
“[Our] experiences demonstrate the real world effects of abortion access on the lives and careers of women attorneys, and underscore the truth of the court’s observation that reproductive choice facilitates women’s ability ‘to participate in the economic and social life of the nation,’” the brief reads.
According to Northup, the briefs represent the largest coalition of faith leaders and faith organizations ever to oppose anti-choice laws at the Supreme Court level. In the legal brief filed by a large collection of different religious leaders, the petitioners stress their support of abortion access — despite efforts from more radical religious organizations to say otherwise.
“As religious leaders and pastoral counselors, [we] provide spiritual guidance to women facing this decision and believe that this complex decision is ultimately a moral one,” the brief reads. “While various religious groups in this country hold differing views on abortion, there is substantial agreement that women have a moral right to make their own decisions on the issue.”
A group of 40 prominent scientists also submitted a brief Tuesday, hoping to overrule the “flawed pseudoscience” that will be used in testimony to support the case.
“We hope the court is able to put abortion politics aside and focus on the illegitimacy of the medical claims propping up the restrictions,” said Robyn Blumner, president and CEO of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. “When science claims are used to infringe a constitutional right they had better be valid, but that’s not the case here.”
A Tuesday press call drew a variety of opponents together, including Wendy Davis, the former Texas state senator who led an 11-hour filibuster in an attempt to defeat HB2, and Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards, to further illustrate the severity of this case. Jessica González-Rojas, the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, also spoke on the call, representing the women already harmed the most by the current Texas law.
“For immigrants, mothers, low-wage workers, and Latinas who are all three, securing an abortion means navigating a state-created obstacle course,” she said. “Those unable to jump through these hoops will be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term or take matters into their own hands.”
The legal briefs filed, which represent more than 1,000 opponents in total, may shine more light on the broader impact the pending case could have on women across the country — an impact that has already left Texas in a health crisis.
“These briefs present a thorough record of the undeniable damage Texas’ sham law has,” concluded Northup. “It will continue to cause, and an indisputable legal argument for why it must be struck down.”
Republicans, in both the House and the Senate, are currently colluding to gut Healthcare Reform and deny actual healthcare to millions of women across our nation using a process called Reconciliation. Reconciliation is an expedited budgetary process that offers some procedural advantages: it needs only the support of a simple majority in the Senate, and cannot be filibustered. The bill they intend pass via reconciliation is HR3762, inappropriately named, “Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act” … it should be named “Butchering All Hope of Being Able to Afford Effective Healthcare Act.”
This reconciliation bill includes language to repeal key parts of Obamacare: the individual mandate, the employer mandate, the medical device tax and the ‘Cadillac tax.’ There are press posts saying that it will also end the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), but I can’t find such a provision in the bill.In addition, it would defund Planned Parenthood for one year
Defunding Planned Parenthood for a Year—
Here’s the section which specifically codifies the vilification of Planned Parenthood as a “Prohibited Entity” that just happens to provide “essential” healthcare for millions of women across our nation:
SEC. 202. FEDERAL PAYMENT TO STATES. (a) In General.—Notwithstanding section 504(a), 1902(a)(23), 2002, 2005(a)(4), 2102(a)(7), or 2105(a)(1) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 704(a), 1396b(a)(23), 1397a, 1397d(a)(4), 1397bb(a)(2), 1397ee(a)(1)), or the terms of any Medicaid waiver in effect on the date of enactment of this Act that is approved under section 1115 or 1915 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1315, 1396n), for the 1-year period beginning on the date of the enactment of this Act no Federal funds may be made available to a State for payments to a prohibited entity, whether made directly to the prohibited entity or through a managed care organization under contract with the State.
(b) Definition Of Prohibited Entity.—In this section, the term “prohibited entity” means an entity, including its affiliates, subsidiaries, successors, and clinics—
(1) that, as of the date of enactment of this Act—
(A) is an organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and exempt from tax under section 501(a) of such Code;
(B) is an essential community provider described in section 156.235 of title 45, Code of Federal Regulations, that is primarily engaged in family planning services, reproductive health, and related medical care; and
(C) provides for abortions, other than an abortion—
(i) if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest; or
(ii) in the case where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself; and
(2) for which the total amount of Federal and State expenditures under the Medicaid program under title XIX of the Social Security Act in fiscal year 2014 made directly to the entity and to any affiliates, subsidiaries, successors, or clinics of the entity, or made to the entity and to any affiliates, subsidiaries, successors, or clinics of the entity as part of a nationwide health care provider network, exceeded $350,000,000.
Please note that the provisions to completely eliminate any funds for Planned Parenthood were proposed and recommended by the Ways and Means Committee currently led by Rep. Paul Ryan, that same Paul Ryan who will is expected to be elected as Speaker of the House next Wednesday — that is, unless the right wing extremists of the Republican Freedom Caucus renege and cast their votes for their beloved Rep. Daniel Webster instead.
Repealing the Individual and Employer Mandates —
Repealing individual mandate provisions are likely to increase, rather than decrease, the number of U.S. residents without health coverage, thus eliminating the progress that has been made in holding people responsible for their healthcare. If the CBO forecasts are correct, the H.R. 3762 mandate repeal provisions could increase the number of uninsured U.S. residents by 55 percent to 65 percent. But, that’s okay with Republicans because for each person who doesn’t buy health insurance, the government doesn’t have to shell out $760-$815. But they took it one step further. To help their corporate benefactors, they also plan on repealing the mandates on employers to provide medical coverage. Thus, ordinary Americans seeking to access affordable healthcare coverage for themselves and their families are going to rapidly find themselves up the proverbial creak, with no paddle, a leaky boat and no pail with which to bail out their boat.
The house voted on passage of HR3762 on Friday. The vote was 240-189 with 5 Democrats not voting. One Democrat (Peterson) voted for passage and ALL THREE of Nevada’s Congressional Republicans voted ‘AYE’ for passage! The bill is now off to the Senate, where it can be considered without a 60-vote cloture requirement (assuming the package passes muster with the Senate “Byrd Rule.”).
The Byrd Rule is a Senate rule that amends the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 to allow Senators, during the Reconciliation Process, to block a piece of legislation if it purports significantly to increase the federal deficit beyond a ten-year term or is otherwise an “extraneous matter” as set forth in the Budget Act. It is named after West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd.
Including macroeconomic feedback, CBO and JCT estimate that enacting the legislation would increase net direct spending as well as on-budget deficits by more than $5 billion in one or more of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2026.
Excluding macroeconomic feedback, CBO and JCT estimate that enacting the legislation would not increase net direct spending by more than $5 billion in either of the first two consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2026; however, the agencies are not able to determine whether enacting the legislation would increase net direct spending by more than $5 billion in the third or fourth 10-year period.
Excluding macroeconomic feedback, CBO and JCT estimate that enacting the legislation would increase on-budget deficits by more than $5 billion in one or more of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2026.
The President is then expected to veto, setting up the need for a veto-override vote in Congress. In a statement promising Obama’s veto, the White House said the GOP measure “would take away critical benefits and health care coverage from hard-working middle-class families.”
‘This ruling goes out of its way to declare that discrimination against women isn’t discrimination.’
– Lauren McCauley, staff writer at Common Dreams
Defenders of women’s health and reproductive freedom are reacting with anger to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Monday which ruled that an employer with religious objection can opt out of providing contraception coverage to their employees under the Affordable Care Act.
Writing for the majority side of the 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Justice Samuel Alito argued that the “the HHS mandate demands that they engage in conduct that seriously violates [employers’] religious beliefs.”
Rights advocates were quick to condemn the court’s decision.
“Today’s decision from five male justices is a direct attack on women and our fundamental rights. This ruling goes out of its way to declare that discrimination against women isn’t discrimination,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
“Allowing bosses this much control over the health-care decisions of their employees is a slippery slope with no end,” Hogue continued. “Every American could potentially be affected by this far-reaching and shocking decision that allows bosses to reach beyond the boardroom and into their employees’ bedrooms. The majority claims that its ruling is limited, but that logic doesn’t hold up. Today it’s birth control; tomorrow it could be any personal medical decision, from starting a family to getting life-saving vaccinations or blood transfusions.”
Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women in the U.S. use birth control for a variety of health reasons, according to research by women’s health organizations.
“The fact of the matter is that birth control is a wildly popular and medically necessary part of women’s health care,” said Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet, a national women’s advocacy organization.Chaudhary adds that despite it’s clear necessity for the reproductive health of the majority of women, one in three women have struggled at some point to afford birth control.
Monday’s ruling focuses specifically on companies that are “closely-held,” which analysts report covers over 90 percent of businesses in the United States.
The dissenting opinion, penned by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and supported by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and mostly joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, acknowledges that the decision was of “startling breadth” and said that it allows companies to “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The opinion was based largely on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which provides that a law that burdens a person’s religious beliefs must be justified by a compelling government interest.
“There is an overriding interest, I believe, in keeping the courts ‘out of the business of evaluating the relative merits of differing religious claims,'” Ginsburg adds, concluding: “The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”
Echoing Ginsburg’s concern, Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State called the ruling “a double-edged disaster,” saying it “conjures up fake religious freedom rights for corporations while being blind to the importance of birth control to America’s working women.”
Similar reactions were expressed on Twitter following the news. Summarizing the crux of the decision, NBC producer Jamil Smith wrote:
Others, joining Ginsburg’s outrage that now “legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs” would be denied essential health coverage, expressed their opinions under the banner “#jointhedissent.”
The majority opinion leaves open the possibility that the federal government can cover the cost of contraceptives for women whose employers opt out, leaving many to look to the Obama administration for their next move.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
The new federal requirement that private health insurance cover the cost of birth control has generated much heated controversy these last few weeks: Congressional hearings, proposed legislation to unwind it, multiple legal actions.
But the rash of recent misogynistic attacks—from Rush Limbaugh’s verbal assault on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke to the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s sweeping dismissal of women’s rights—has taken the public debate to shocking, demeaning extremes.
But as much as opponents of choice and reproductive rights would like you to believe otherwise, government action to expand access to affordable contraception is neither novel nor radical—and it is by no means an attack on religious freedom, as a number of governments around the world can attest.
Take Spain, for example. Few countries are as Catholic as is Spain. Nearly 75 percent of all Spaniards identify themselves as Catholic (in the U.S., just one in four citizens are Catholic). And yet Spain shows a far more advanced understanding and practical tolerance of contraception and how it fits into today’s society:
All women covered under the country’s National Health System pay reduced rates for contraception because the government subsidizes it.
All pharmacies are required to dispense emergency contraception—without a prescription and without restriction to age.
Spain is not alone in recognizing the ways contraception can improve women’s status and enhance the country’s overall well-being. The majority of countries in the European Union aim to make birth control affordable and information about birth control readily available. Germany, Romania, and United Kingdom provide particularly good examples. And representatives from several E.U. countries will meet this month in the European Parliament-along with leaders from the Center for Reproductive Rights—in an attempt to create greater consensus on contraception issues and discuss the multiple public health and human rights benefits that subsidization of contraceptives brings.
The primary message of the meeting will be that a woman’s ability to control her own fertility is essential to her health, her empowerment, and her equality in society, and it is a government’s responsibility to ensure access to the full range of family planning services so that women can make free and informed decisions.
Contraception empowers women. It prevents millions of unintended pregnancies and saves billions of taxpayer dollars every year. It should be a step forward that we can all rally around—not a lightning rod for controversy.