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At LGBTQ Town Hall, Democratic Presidential Candidates Vow to Confront Violence Against Trans Women

Nearly every Democratic presidential candidate who took the stage Thursday night at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and CNN’s “Power of Our Pride” Town Hall invoked violence against trans women of color as an issue of foremost importance.

But, as actress and filmmaker Blossom C. Brown pointed out during former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s session more than halfway through the event, she was the first Black trans person to have the opportunity to speak on the mic—and she had not been among the audience members pre-selected to do so. Rather, Brown’s protest was one of three that interrupted the four-and-a-half-hour town hall on the eve of National Coming Out Day.

“Not one Black trans woman has taken the mic tonight,” Brown said in front of the roughly 1,200 assembled audience members at the Novo in Los Angeles. “Not one Black trans man has taken the mic tonight …. That’s what anti-Blackness looks like, the erasure of Black trans people. We are here in this room—please give us that opportunity.”

“The slew of violence against Black trans women needs to be certified as an epidemic and public health crisis beyond just reading the names of murdered women,” Alex Corona, a board member of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, said in an email to Rewire.News

“The presidential candidates need policies in place to protect trans people in every aspect of stability,” Corona continued. “There should be incentives to educate, hire, house, train, elect, and empower trans people on every city, state, and national level. Funds need to be dedicated to national campaigns to educate on and destigmatize trans identities. We need a national task force, funding, seats at the table, legislative powers, and full city/state cooperation.”

Indeed, both O’Rourke and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg referred to the situation facing trans women of color as an “epidemic.” Out of the nine candidates present, only former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN) did not explicitly address the crisis, although Klobuchar mentioned that she’d brought as her guest Andrea Jenkins, the first trans member of the Minneapolis City Council. When asked by audience member and advocate Carter Brown about the murders of Black transgender people, businessman Tom Steyer said, “That has got to be the definition of a hate crime. We have got to prosecute those as severely as possible, as a symbol of who we are, a symbol of the thing that we won’t put up with.”

Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro said in response to a question from audience member and singer/songwriter Shea Diamond that if he were elected, he would “absolutely” have a group of transgender people advise him.

“We will no longer allow trans women of color to be killed at this alarming rate and to be killed with what is functionally impunity in the United States of America,” Castro said. “If local law enforcement won’t make it a priority, the local [district attorney] will not prosecute, we are going to involve our Department of Justice and our attorney general to look at these as civil rights violations.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA) said she would be open to making anti-trans violence a hate crime if it was “the most effective way to make change,” but that she also wanted to install a Justice Department that was empowered to step in when a state was failing to protect LGBTQ people. Noting that Black trans women face the dual dangers from racism and transphobia, Sen. Kamala Harris (CA) said that when anti-trans violence does occur, “there has to be serious consequence and accountability … which means there needs to be a safe place for the members of our transgender community to go when they have been exposed to that kind of harm and we know there’s not always a safe place.”

In a 2016 federal blueprint for equality released by the National Center for Transgender Equality, half of transgender people reported they were uncomfortable seeking assistance from police. Orlando-based Brandon Wolf, who works with Equality Florida, asked Sen. Cory Booker (NJ) how he would ensure that law enforcement would treat vulnerable victims with dignity and respect.

Instead of answering the question, Booker focused on Wolf’s background as one of the survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016. He warned of the dangers of gun violence and explained his resolve to combat anti-LGBTQ school bullying.

Wolf told Rewire.News by phone after the event that although he had appreciated Booker’s comments, he felt that his question had not been fully answered.

“At Equality Florida, we have to teach [law enforcement] not to deadname victims,” he said, adding that he was hoping Booker would speak to proactively implementing policies that would address this information gap among police officers. He also noted that he’d wanted Booker to speak about implementing federal hate crime legislation.

Booker did later note that at least 19 trans women of color have been murdered this year.

Still, advocates argued in statements to Rewire.News that the candidates need to do more. “The actions taken by trans women of color in the audience are a reminder to mainstream organizations and media that there is much more that they need to do to ensure that those most marginalized in our communities—Black and brown trans women—are heard,” said Jorge Gutierrez, executive director of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement.

Juniperangelica (Gia) Cordova, senior organizer of Transgender Law Center’s and GSA Network’s joint youth leadership program, TRUTH, added: “Fifty years after Stonewall, we continue to see erasure of trans leaders and this needs to change; the LGBTQ movement needs to center trans people and uplift the leadership of trans women of color. It is wrong that during a time when we learn of Black trans women being murdered almost every day there wasn’t a single Black trans woman allowed to speak until Blossom Brown took the mic to challenge this erasure several hours in. Trans migrants are being held in cages, and yet trans migrants aren’t asked for their thoughts on immigration.”

“And honestly, even asking questions isn’t enough,” Gordova continued. “Trans leaders exist everywhere and we should not only be part of asking the questions, but also working toward the solutions. Ask us for our thoughts on health care. Ask us for our thoughts on education, on the environment, on housing issues. We have more to say than just commenting on the acts of violence inflicted on us. We have solutions. Make room for us at the table and actually let us speak; until then, expect us to keep on taking the mic by force.”

Discrimination Against LGBTQ Workers

In the wake of the cases about LGBTQ workplace discrimination heard in front of the U.S. Supreme Court this week, multiple candidates also expressed concern about people being fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many seemed resigned to the idea that the conservative Court would not determine that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ rights. Instead, they promised to work as presidents toward passing the Equality Act, which would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

“We would pass the Equality Act right off the bat, number one,” Biden said. Though he personally believes the Civil Rights Act covers anti-LGBTQ discrimination, he said, “In the event that [the Supreme Court justices] rule otherwise … I hope we don’t get there, but I believe that’s the way we would proceed.”

Booker, Harris, Warren, and Klobuchar all co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill, as did Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who missed the event as he’s recovering from a heart attack. Of course, passing the Equality Act requires a majority in the Senate, which both Warren and Klobuchar pointed out. “I’m willing to continue to push Mitch McConnell right now, but my number one goal is to make sure he is not the majority leader come January 2021,” Warren said.

Warren, Harris, and Buttigieg all released a comprehensive LGBTQ rights platform on Thursday in advance of the event. In her platform, Warren specifically mentioned the decriminalization of sex work as something she would be open to—an issue of importance given that many LGBTQ people rely on sex work for survival. Klobuchar, by contrast, said she was not in favor of decriminalizing sex work because of the effect it might have on young women and violence against women. But some advocates argue decriminalization could have the opposite effect, particularly in the way it might help those who are being exploited to come forward. Co-sponsors Booker, Klobuchar, and Harris, along with Sanders and Warren, all voted for the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), a federal anti-trafficking law that many sex workers say has made them less safe; O’Rourke supported the House version, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA).

After his onstage interview, Castro told a group of reporters he’s “open to hearing the arguments” of sex work decriminalization. “I support de-prioritizing enforcement,” he said. “I want to make sure that we’re not using the law in a way that’s making [vulnerable people’s] situation worse.”

Corona, of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, noted via email that “there’s more at play than decriminalization of sex work, but that will be a good start.”

“As long as there’s also a billion-dollar bailout fund for Black and brown trans sex workers who still get arrested and imprisoned for new charges once ‘sex work’ is decriminalized,” she added.

Other Systemic Injustices

A few candidates noted that LGBTQ people are affected by other policy concerns, such as climate change and youth homelessness. Given the reported treatment of LGBTQ asylum seekers in detention, it was surprising how few mentioned immigration reform as a specific point of concern for LGBTQ people. Steyer called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “inhumane” in response to a question from Los Angeles LGBT Center Policy and Operations Manager Maria Melo about the connection between immigration and LGBTQ rights, but then pivoted to reiterating why President Donald Trump should be impeached.

When asked by Rewire.News in the media room how he would protect queer and trans immigrants in detention, Booker replied, “It’s not just immigrants … the violence against LGBTQ [people] is at extraordinarily unconscionable levels in the entire spectrum of our criminal justice system, which includes ICE agents and Customs and Border [Protection]’s treatment of people.”

He continued that he planned to make “sure that we’re ending the system of detention that we have .… We have shown that it is better for America to deal with immigration through the civil courts and not the criminal courts. And these are the things that I’ll do to make sure that we do not see the kind of violation of human rights that’s going on at our borders right now … Migrants are facing abuses of human rights across the board.”

Castro described onstage the experience of meeting with LGBTQ asylum seekers in Matamoros, Mexico. “These are folks who are applying for asylum in the United States but in an unprecedented way the Trump administration is making them remain in Mexico until their asylum claim is adjudicated. But the eight members of the LGBTQ community that I was there with, they were fleeing persecution, violence, threats, and they’re experiencing those same kinds of things right now,” he said. “They deserve asylum.” Castro told reporters that he’d escorted the eight asylum seekers to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection office, but that they’d been forced to return to Mexico.

Gutierrez told Rewire.News he wished there “had been more questions focused on the issues affecting LGBTQ people of color, including the continued criminalization of our communities, including on immigration and the deaths of trans women in detention centers.”

Several audience members asked the candidates how they would address the disproportionately high numbers of LGBTQ Black men with HIV in the United States. Most replied by pointing out that pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PReP, can be prohibitively expensive—as advocates have pointed out, this is particularly true for Black trans women, who are often overlooked in PrEP conversations. They resolved to implement policies to lower its cost or make it available over the counter, as it is in California.

“I want to see us bring down the cost of drugs that are generic,” Warren said. “This drug will be off-patent by then. And I commit that in my administration we will let out a government contract to produce that drug and make that drug available at cost both here in the United States and all around the world.”

“This is an example of how two different patterns of exclusion in our country—systemic racism and discrimination against the LGBTQ community, in general, and those with HIV in particular—overlap to put Black gay men in an especially vulnerable position,” Buttigieg said. He also pointed out that HIV patients who have an undetectable viral load have little to no risk of transmitting the infection, or what is known in public health circles as “U=U.”

After emotionally recounting her time at the deathbeds of friends with the disease, Harris said, “As president, I commit to you … that within a generation we will end HIV-AIDS.” Harris was also the only candidate to state her pronouns at the beginning of her time onstage, prompting host and CNN anchor Chris Cuomo to erroneously claim that he, too, uses “she/her” pronouns (he does not, and later apologized on Twitter for saying so).

Biden responded to a question regarding the HIV rates among Black men by saying, as other candidates had throughout the evening, that he would not allow health-care providers to refuse service to LGBTQ people. He concluded, however, with a rambling summary of his views on LGBTQ people.

“What about my sons, my daughter, my granddaughters, my grandson? What happens if they are at age 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, and they know there’s something different about themselves and they have to come out? What do they say if they’re not going to be accepted? What happens?” he asked.

“Our brothers, our sisters, our—the girl we went out with in high school, the guy you know—no, I’m serious,” Biden continued. “Think about it. The idea it’s normal. It’s normalized. It’s not anything strange. It’s not strange. That’s the generic point. And the more people know that, the more they understand it.”

Advocates noted to Rewire.News that they were glad the town hall took place, given that “the needs of our communities are often sidelined and because all presidential candidates must be more vocal on the issues affecting LGBTQ people.”

Gutierrez continued, “We hope that LGBTQ town halls are more common in the future because the issues affecting our communities affect everyone. We know that none of us is free until we’re all safe to live our authentic selves.”

The Strategy Behind Where to Build Abortion Clinics

After 18 months of secret construction, Planned Parenthood will open one of the nation’s largest abortion clinics in southern Illinois this month, expanding access not just in the state but across the midwest.

The new health center in Fairview Heights, Illinois, will replace the city’s smaller Planned Parenthood clinic, which provided family planning and medication abortion services to more than 5,000 patients in 2018. The location of the new facility, just 13 miles from Missouri’s last remaining abortion clinic in St. Louis, was strategically chosen to reach as many patients in the region as possible, said Yamelsie Rodriguez, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.

The 18,000-square-foot facility, equipped to serve 11,000 patients a year, is the latest abortion clinic to be built near the border of a state where lawmakers have restricted access to abortion care at every turn. Reproductive rights advocates say it will be critically important to construct abortion-providing facilities near states where people are burdened by medically unnecessary anti-choice laws.

“We specifically chose Illinois because we know the policies in that state have made Illinois an oasis for access to the entire spectrum of reproductive health-care services,” Rodriguez told Rewire.News.

Missouri is one of six states with only one abortion provider, and that provider’s state license has been in jeopardy this year as anti-choice politicians continue to adjust licensing requirements. Conversely, Democrats in Illinois have passed legislation to protect and expand abortion access, making it one of the least restrictive states in the country. An increasing number of patients from surrounding states are traveling to Illinois to receive abortion care.

“Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri has been looking to expand and protect access to comprehensive reproductive health care not just in Missouri, where we know abortion access hangs on by a thread, but in the Midwest region, where we have states like Arkansas and Kentucky increasing restrictions to limit women’s access to these services,” Rodriguez said.

The divide between Illinois and Missouri illustrates an emerging trend across the country, as states with Republican-held legislatures, primarily in the South and Midwest, continue to make abortion care inaccessible, while states with Democratic-majority legislatures in the West and Northeast protect and expand access. In the first six months of 2019, state legislatures enacted 58 abortion restrictions, 26 of which would ban the procedure in all, most, or some cases, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

In Colorado, another state many people travel to for abortion care, the location of abortion clinics is strategically chosen to reach those needing services, said Laura Chapin, spokesperson for NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado. Colorado is one of seven states that doesn’t restrict abortion at any stage of pregnancy. Colorado clinics served women from 34 states in 2018, the Denver Post reported.

“There’s a Planned Parenthood facility on the eastern side of Denver off I-70. That’s not an accident,” Chapin told Rewire.News. “There should be a national standard of care across the country. That’s why you have constitutional rights that aren’t dependent on your geography.”

While 2019 has brought a surge of GOP-backed abortion bans, spurred by hopes that conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade, Democratic-led state legislatures have passed a record number of bills meant to secure and expand abortion access, said Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute. In the first six months of 2019, states have enacted 93 proactive provisions, including 29 that protect abortion rights, 11 that increase access to contraception, and 15 that seek to improve comprehensive sex education.

“The immediate catalyst is a more conservative Supreme Court, but these proactive bills are also a reaction to a longer trend of abortion restrictions,” Nash told Rewire.News. “And there isn’t a lot of overlap. States are either looking to ban abortion or protect it.”

Planned Parenthood built the new Fairview Heights facility using a shell company to avoid interference from protestors, CBS News reported. Other Planned Parenthood projects have been halted by protestors harassing contractors and putting pressure on other vendors The new clinic will begin serving patients in mid-October and will provide a broad spectrum of reproductive health-care services including medication and surgical abortions, cancer screenings, annual exams, family planning, HIV prevention, and STI testing.

Though the new Planned Parenthood facility in Illinois will be equipped to serve thousands of patients, many across the Midwest will still have to travel long distances to receive care. People in the middle or southern regions of Missouri will need to drive at least a couple hours to reach an abortion provider in either St. Louis or Illinois. People in western Missouri could seek care in eastern Kansas, but will still need to travel to get there.

“We know that increasing one access point doesn’t necessarily mean all people will be able to seek the care they need, but Planned Parenthood is committed to reducing as many barriers as we can,” Rodriguez said.

While the new Planned Parenthood facility will expand access in Missouri and Illinois, the same strategy may not be as effective in other parts of the country where neighboring states have onerous restrictions, Nash said.

“If we are looking at the current political environment, particularly in the South, you aren’t going to find many states where building a facility on a border will really increase access,” Nash said. “Certainly for Illinois, building capacity there is part of a solution, but if you’re in Alabama or Mississippi, where potentially could the next clinic be?”

As state legislatures continue to pass laws aimed at either restricting or expanding access to abortion care, more patients will be forced to travel or go without the care they need.

“I do think the existing divide in access will continue and be exacerbated, and that isn’t where we need to be,” Nash said. “We need to be looking at what patients need, and making sure they get the services they desire and deserve with respect and dignity.”

Fighting for the Future of Our Planet Is Reproductive Justice

One of the fundamental pillars of reproductive justice (a framework developed by SisterSong) is the right of anyone to start and raise their family in safe, sustainable communities. Yet so many people of color do not have access to this right because of environmental racism. For progress to occur, everyone advocating for access to sexual and reproductive health care and those fighting for environmental justice needs to uplift the work and priorities of Black people, indigenous people, and other people of color.

By addressing major issues like climate change through a reproductive justice lens, our solutions can be all-encompassing.

Spit Justice, a Los Angeles-based, Black-led collective that’s inspiring social change through art and grassroots organizing, defines environmental racism as “forcing working-class, colonized communities to live within close proximity to environmentally hazardous or degraded environments, such as toxic waste, pollution, urban decay, and coal plants.” Such environmental racism affects the climate refugees of islands that are quickly disappearing due to rising water levels, and the community of Flint, Michigan, where there is still a lack of access to clean water. It also affects communities of color living throughout the five boroughs of New York City—which, despite its “progressive” reputation, is still leaving vulnerable people behind.

As early as 1995, reports surfaced indicating the high level of asthma among communities in the South Bronx. What we’ve learned in the 24 years since then is that this epidemic is not subsiding, and the root cause has revealed itself. Ninety-seven percent of the population of South Bronx’s Mott Haven and Melrose neighborhoods is Black or Latinx. This area of the Bronx is positioned between three major highways and was the location selected by the city and corporate officials for the latest distribution ports for Fresh Direct, an online grocery delivery service, and the Wall Street Journal. Although community members patronize these companies at a lower rate than other New Yorkers, they are forced to deal firsthand with the environmental side effects of the hundreds of trucks coming in and out of the area daily for deliveries. In part because of this, children and adults in the South Bronx face some of the highest asthma rates in the nation.

Last year, a New York Times exposé also revealed just how many children tested positive for lead poisoning after it was discovered that the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) was knowingly in violation of health codes that outlawed the use of lead paint in 1960. Though the New York City Department of Health discovered high lead levels in the paint used in NYCHA housing buildings more than a decade ago, NYCHA leaders did nothing with this information. Instead, NYCHA officials went on to challenge 95 percent of the results of health department inspections and covered them up with investigations of their own design. The inhabitants of NYCHA housing? Low-income Black and Latinx people. In this case, the government has proven yet again that providing safe and sustainable housing is not a priority when it involves communities of color.

Those living in NYCHA housing buildings and the communities in the South Bronx not only face systemic barriers that prevent economic equity, they’re also often unable to remove their families from harmful environments due to this inequity. This situation is not unique to New York City, or even to the United States. Throughout the world, due to systemic racism and socio-economic status, Black people, indigenous people, and other people of color are frequently the ones feeling the burden of environmental crises—including climate change—the most.

Groups like New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and South Bronx Unite are just two organizations on the ground in New York City fighting to end environmental racism. But the impact of their work extends far beyond the five boroughs. Immediately, their proposals would invest in building a cleaner and more sustainable environment for the communities of the Bronx. Should these proposals be implemented, they would, in turn, help New York City and the state transition to 100-percent renewable energy by 2050.

The key to ending climate change and other forms of environmental destruction is contingent on dismantling white supremacy. This is the very argument that people of color, especially Black and indigenous people, have been making for the past few centuries and beyond.

The attacks on our environment are incredibly complex, and reproductive justice provides us an intersectional lens to see it through. Embracing a reproductive justice framework means taking the lead of on-the-ground activists to safeguard the right of families to raise their children in a safe and healthy community. By doing so, we will be able to address the root causes of climate change where its effects feel most urgent, and in turn, lay the foundation for a sustainable future to build upon.

Supreme Court Protesters Condemn ‘Abhorrent’ Attempt to Gut LGBTQ Employment Rights

Hundreds gathered Tuesday in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to demonstrate in favor of employment protections for LGBTQ workers as the Court heard oral arguments in cases involving their workplace rights.

The demonstrators, some of whom stood a few feet from counter-demonstrators holding “God hates Pride” signs, said they came to the Court to fight for their community’s workplace protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. Police said they arrested 133 people.

Two cases before the Roberts Court were consolidated: Zarda v. Altitude Express and Bostock v. Clayton County. These cases will consider sexual orientation as sex discrimination. The other case is Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, which will consider discrimination against transgender people.

Blake Flayton, a demonstrator at the Court on Tuesday morning, said the employment protections at the heart of the Supreme Court cases represent “the civil rights LGBTQ issue of our time.”

“I think it is abhorrent that somebody could be able to let someone go from employment or deny someone employment based on their sexual orientation or gender identity that is not an issue that is religious freedom,” Flayton said during the demonstration. “I come here as a proud Jew. It’s not about religious freedom. It’s about denying civil rights and bigotry.”

Twenty-one states, the District of Columbia, and two territories explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which means LGBTQ people have to rely on a patchwork of laws for employment protections. Although Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives this year passed the Equality Act, which would clarify and expand national protections for LGBTQ people under employment, housing, education, public accommodations, credit, and lending, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate has not taken up the legislation.

<span style=“font-size: 10pt;“>Blake and Elijah (courtesy of Casey Quinlan)</span>

Blake and Elijah (courtesy of Casey Quinlan)

Elijah Nichols told Rewire.News at the demonstration that supporting Aimee Stephens, the plaintiff in Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, was crucial. Stephens was fired from her job as a funeral home director in Michigan once she began transitioning at work.

“I’m from Michigan myself and grew up in West Michigan, which is considered the Bible Belt of Michigan,” Nichols said. “I knew the struggles of internalized homophobia, of systematic homophobia, and social homophobia, and I’m here to stand up for my rights and fellow queers in Michigan and to make my voice heard because it’s frankly not OK what’s happening.”

Vanessa Perry, communications associate at Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, said she is genuinely “fearful of my position in the world.”

“As a queer-identified woman in the workplace, I actually do have the likelihood of getting fired depending on where I work, based on my sexual identity, and that in and of itself is not OK. It does not portray who we are as a nation and as a people, and I am genuinely worried about my future in the workplace,” Perry told Rewire.News from the demonstration.

Jennifer, a demonstrator who wished to be identified only by her first name, said she came to the Supreme Court for her son, her daughter, and son-in-law, all of whom identify as LGBTQ.

“I’m here for my son,” she said. “He should have the same rights as anyone else should have. Why because he expresses himself differently is he not entitled to the same rights as Mitch McConnell’s daughters or whatever [children] he has? We all deserve the same rights. I’m here for my son and for my daughter and son-in-law. I’m here for all the people who have been marginalized.”

Anna Morrison, coordinator for LGBTQ support and diversity programs at American University, said she came to the Supreme Court to demonstrate on behalf of her own rights as well as the young people she works with at the university, which is in Washington, D.C.

“I’m a queer person and I’m lucky to work with LGBTQ youth, and I think it’s important for their future to be out here, not only for myself, because who knows where I’ll be working down the line,” she said. “But every human being deserves protection and deserves to work and not be fired based on any identity that they hold.”

Morrison said if the cases being heard are decided in a way that harms the LGBTQ community, LGBTQ advocates should continue to push for passage of the Equality Act in the Senate and show LGBTQ youth that they will continue fighting for workplace protections.

An American University student who came to the demonstration, but did not provide their name, said they are worried about the precedent the cases might set. “It [would say] that we’re second-class citizens, which I don’t think is acceptable to me. It’s about saying we do deserve equality either way,” they said.

Demonstrators marched to the Supreme Court on Tuesday morning where they met with about 40 counterprotesters holding signs that read “Don’t threaten equal opportunity for women,” “protect fairness for women,” and “sex not gender” that showed the Alliance Defending Freedom’s logo at the bottom. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in an influential anti-LGBTQ group that argues discriminatory practices are protected by “religious liberty.”

The ADF has worked closely with the Trump administration, and former ADF staffers have taken positions within the anti-LGBTQ administration. In 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a task force to implement so-called religious liberty guidance at an ADF-backed summit.

Other counter-demonstrators held signs that read “trans women are men” and wore shirts that read “woman is female.” The demonstrators then chanted “sex not gender” until the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington gathered nearby and sang “We Shall Overcome” to drown out their words.

It’s unclear whether any of the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court will be persuaded by the arguments in favor of LGBTQ workers and others affected by sex discrimination protections. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch asked whether an issue of “massive social upheaval” would lend itself to a “legislative rather than a judicial function?” Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito said he wondered whether attorneys for LGBTQ petitioners were trying to change the meaning of what Congress understood sex to mean.

In a recent amicus brief, historians argued that the understanding of sex at the time of the law’s passage may have been broader than some people understand, and that LGBTQ people could be understood to be included.

On the possible outcome of these cases, Harper Jean Tobin, policy director at the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), said, “If there are five justices on this court who believe in applying the text of the law,” the plaintiffs will win and LGBTQ workplace protections will remain intact. “If somehow the justices twist the law, ignore the text, and legalize discrimination in half the country, we will need to turn to our legislators to fix this huge hole that the courts will have blown in our laws.”

“We will have to turn to the U.S. Senate and we still have to turn to state legislatures to protect workers again the way they’re protected under the law now,” Tobin continued. “But we hope that there are five textualists on this court who will apply discrimination on the basis of sex the way it’s written to find it protects workers who are fired because of who they are.”

Michigan Governor Says No to More Taxpayer Funds for Anti-Choice Clinics

Michigan’s reproductive rights powerhouse Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) recently smacked down $700,000 in state funding for a group with a long history of misspending taxpayer dollars and deceiving pregnant people.

Whitmer, who won the governorship in 2018, last week used her line-item veto power to prevent Pennsylvania-based Real Alternatives from receiving more state dollars while failing to meet the promised metrics for success and promoting an anti-choice agenda.

Funding for Real Alternatives should have never made it into the Michigan budget, much less to our governor’s desk. The idea of increasing what the state was giving the anti-choice group is an insult to me as a woman, a taxpayer, and a person capable of reading a simple balance sheet. But given the absurdist theater of state politics of the past few years, I’m not the least bit surprised.

Months after Whitmer proposed her budget, Republican lawmakers tried to corner her by taking a summer vacation and giving her mere days to prevent a government shutdown. It wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t right. But what do you expect from GOP officials with a history of taking money away from needy families and children?

Real Alternatives has been proven to misuse money intended to serve vulnerable households with newborn children. They grew their own executives’ paychecks, missed yearly goals they promised to fulfill for the Michigan Pregnancy and Parenting Support Program, and funded anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers that lie to and manipulate people who seek abortion care.

We’ve known Whitmer is a powerful ally for reproductive rights. As a state senator and a representative, she was no stranger to the uphill battle against nonsense anti-abortion legislation. She fought back against attacks on later abortion care in 2008, and tried to fend off so-called rape insurance in 2014, although—unfortunately—both eventually passed with Republican support.

But it shouldn’t take an effective ally to see through Real Alternatives’ charade. Real Alternatives is just one piece of the growing anti-abortion movement in Michigan and across the country.

Since the spring, anti-choice groups Michigan Values Life (backed by Right to Life Michigan) and the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition have launched two ballot initiatives to make second-trimester abortions inaccessible and criminalize abortion at six weeks’ gestation, respectively.

But even without those ballot initiatives, abortion care is barely accessible for Michiganders. From Detroit to Kalamazoo, people have to wait for available appointments at clinics, pay for abortion out of pocket unless they purchase an additional insurance rider, and plan around a 24-hour forced waiting period to obtain an abortion.

And while legislators are trying to pay Real Alternatives to fund fake programs, our Planned Parenthood affiliates are under financial stress after a Trump administration policy forced the organization to reject federal family planning funding in order to keep providing abortion services.

When we find the small victories in the long list of battles pro-choice advocates face here in Michigan, we’ll take them.

If not for Whitmer’s strong pro-choice leadership, Republicans would’ve handed over the money to Real Alternatives. This would have been one more win for the right’s nationally coordinated attack on reproductive freedom in the United States.

Everyone knows abortion restrictions are not about protection or medical necessity—bad-faith arguments put forth by anti-choice Republicans. Making abortion illegal or inaccessible is a way for conservatives to oppress and punish people who seek necessary health care.

Funding groups like Real Alternatives is about taking money away from those who need it. Even without mentioning the word, “abortion,” funneling taxpayer money into Real Alternatives was a direct attack on abortion rights.

After Two Hours of Arguments, Five Votes Could Decide the Future of LGBTQ Rights

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges represented a significant, but potentially fleeting, shift in LGBTQ rights. Led by conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, Obergefell recognized the indignity LGBTQ people experience when the law treats them differently simply for who they are. Despite being a fundamentally conservative opinion grounded in traditional notions of partnership and family, Obergefell was revolutionary for its jurisprudential embrace of the humanity of LGBTQ people.

The legal landscape looks very different for LGBTQ rights four years later. The Trump administration has taken a sledgehammer to the slow and steady progress made during the Obama administration of recognizing the promise of Obergefell and recognizing LGBTQ rights. And on Tuesday during oral arguments for the three cases that ask whether federal employment discrimination law protects LGBTQ employees, the conservative wing of the Roberts Court appeared ready to do the same—assuming they can keep Justice Neil Gorsuch on board. 

The first two cases on the Roberts Court’s docket revolved around the question of whether prohibitions on discrimination “on the basis of sex” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 include discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation. The cases were combined under Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia. In Bostock, the plaintiff alleges he was fired from his job as a child welfare services coordinator for a Georgia county’s juvenile court system after his employer found out he is gay. In May 2018, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled in an unpublished per curiam decision that Bostock couldn’t sue his employer because Title VII doesn’t ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Bostock wants the Supreme Court to reverse the 11th Circuit’s decision, which his attorneys argue is wrong and in conflict with the majority of recent federal court decisions that do recognize sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII. 

The third case before the Court seeks to answer whether Title VII applies to claims of discrimination based on gender identity and transgender status. In R.G & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on behalf of Aimee Stephens, a Michigan funeral director who was fired once she began transitioning at work.

The Roberts Court had previously avoided answering the question of whether discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is discrimination “because of sex” under Title VII, but during arguments Tuesday showed no such reluctance. This despite the fact that the Roberts Court announced last week it was going to try something new this term.

Counsel before the Court now get to make their arguments, uninterrupted, for approximately two minutes before the justices jump in with their questions. That meant that Stanford law professor and attorney Pamela Karlan, who argued on behalf of the employees in these cases, had the opportunity to clearly set forth why “firing a man who dates a man” is discrimination because of sex. It’s a startling difference to hear the attorneys be able to frame their case before the Court without immediate interruption. Whether it changes the outcome remains to be seen, but Karlan did her best to stay focused on the argument that sexual orientation discrimination is by its nature discrimination because of sex.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had the first question for Karlan and asked about the “original public understanding” of sex discrimination when Title VII first passed. What role, if any, should that original understanding play in how the justices resolve the dispute before them, Ginsburg pressed? None, Karlan answered. Just look to the words of the statute, Karlan insisted. When Title VII passed in 1964 it was “the days of Mad Men,” she said, where sexual harassment, now a commonly understood form of sex discrimination under Title VII, was not recognized.

Ginsburg’s question was pointed for a reason. The heart of the dispute of these cases is a “textual” dispute—a fight over the meaning of the text “because of sex” in the statute. Conservatives, including Solicitor General Noel Francisco who argued in defense of the employers in these cases, insist the text of the statute doesn’t support finding that sexual orientation or gender identity claims are covered in part because of the “original public understanding” of the harm Congress was trying to remedy when it first passed Title VII. That original public meaning of Title VII, Francisco and the other conservative attorneys representing the employers said, only prohibits employers from treating one sex better or worse than the other. Nothing more, nothing less.

It’s a deceptively simple argument that has dangerous consequences. As federal courts recognized sexual orientation discrimination over the years, they did so by building on the idea that sex-stereotyping can be a form of sex discrimination covered under Title VII. The Court reaffirmed that principle in the 1998 case, Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, authored by Justice Antonin Scalia.

In Oncale, a male employee said he was “forcibly subjected to sex-related humiliating actions” by his male co-workers, including assault and rape threats, for not being “macho” enough. Oncale is a case study in same-sex harassment. In finding that Title VII covered instances of same-sex harassment despite the text of Title VII being arguable silent on the topic, Justice Scalia wrote: “[S]tatutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed.” 

In other words, according to Justice Scalia in Oncale, Title VII demands courts go beyond the original public understanding of the law to cover those “reasonably comparable evils” of sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. According to Scalia and the majority in Oncale, it doesn’t matter what the exact words of Title VII say or even what the lawmakers at the time thought they were covering. What matters is that the language of Title VII itself is expansive enough to contemplate social change. And Title VII does this by recognizing that firing an employee because of their failure to conform to stereotypical notions of sex—whether because of sexual orientation or gender identity—are by their definition sex discrimination.

Congress doesn’t need to speak now on that question. They did so in 1964 by passing Title VII. “It is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex,” the Sixth Circuit states in Harris. “Discrimination ‘because of sex’ inherently includes discrimination against employees because of a change in their sex.”

On Tuesday, Solicitor General Francisco took the opposite view and argued that the only way to make Title VII cover gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination is for Congress to amend the law to explicitly say that it does. That’s an argument that Justices Samuel Alito and Chief Justice Roberts latched onto immediately. Roberts noted that the states that had passed their own version of Title VII had explicitly stated protections for sexual orientation discrimination, as well as exemptions in place for religious objectors. Justice Alito even took the end of Karlan’s time not to let her answer a question, but to accuse the employees of trying to change the meaning of Title VII outright.

If Justice Roberts is true to precedent, then next summer the Court will rule that Title VII covers both sexual orientation discrimination and gender identity discrimination, and Roberts will join the majority in doing so. There is no other conclusion that remains both true to the text of the statute and the cases that followed. But Roberts is a conservative ideologue and not a scholar of precedent. He also laid the groundwork for reading sexual orientation and gender discrimination protections out of Title VII in Obergefell. Reading his dissent from the bench, Roberts was clearly angry about the outcome of the case. He accused the majority of acting out of political motivation, not legal reasoning, and suggested that those celebrating the decision were doing so simply because their side had won.

“[T]his Court is not a legislature,” Roberts wrote in his dissent in Obergefell. “The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment.” 

Conservatives picked up Roberts’ mantra of “this Court is not a legislature” over and over again on Tuesday, but the refrain wasn’t directed to Roberts, who is all but certain to vote against LGBTQ rights in the workplace. It was directed at Justice Gorsuch, who is likely to side with conservatives in these cases. But on Tuesday, he really tried to stay true to his textualist roots. At one point, he described the cases a close call from a textualist perspective and suggested to David Cole, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who represents Aimee Stephens in the case, that he might even be on his clients’ side. But, Gorsuch said, he was worried about the “social upheaval” a ruling from the Court would send for employees in these cases. “[F]ederal courts of appeals have been recognizing that discrimination against transgender people is discrimination for 20 years. There’s been no upheaval,” Cole said.

The Court could split the difference in the cases and find Title VII protects sexual orientation discrimination but not gender identity discrimination, or vice versa. But if Justice Gorsuch remains true to his textualism, then he could very well be the fifth vote to find that LGBTQ people are protected under Title VII. I think that’s a big “if,” though, given his hand-wringing about social upheaval that would come from the Court ruling on behalf of LGBTQ employees and an overall history of voting against civil rights.

I think it is more likely that Justice Gorsuch will rule against LGBTQ rights and write an opinion saying how that conclusion is an exercise in “judicial modesty” rather than a gutting of civil rights protections for the millions of LGBTQ people in this country. That decision would not only be disappointing, but it would also be intellectually dishonest and leave millions of employees looking to a patchwork of state laws for protections against employment discrimination, and advocates pressing Congress to pass affirmative federal protections as well.

We’ll know either way later next year when the Court finally rules in these cases.

Federally Funded Obria Prescribes Abstinence to Stop the Spread of STDs

Inside Obria Medical Clinics, conviction—not condoms—is summoned to stop the spread of chlamydia.

The Christian medical chain, awarded $1.7 million in federal family planning funds for the first time this year, does not offer hormonal birth control or condoms; instead, its doctors and nurses teach patients when they’re likely to be fertile and counsel them in restraint.

Reproductive health-care providers have bristled over Obria’s inclusion in a federal program, known as Title X, established to help poor women avoid unwanted pregnancies. But clinics receiving money also are expected to detect, treat, and prevent sexually transmitted diseases and HIV, and Obria’s prohibition against condoms means its prevention efforts—whether for single millennials or aging married couples—rest on abstinence.

In its application for federal funding, Obria pledged to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and recognized medical standards for preventing STDs. Used correctly and consistently, condoms are highly effective at preventing transmission of STDs, according to the CDC, a finding echoed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other major medical associations.

But Obria will not advocate or provide condoms. Instead, its staff will “emphasize that avoiding sex is the only 100-percent method to prevent pregnancy and STDs” and teach patients about “high-risk behaviors” and the “risks of using ‘safe-sex’ methods,” according to the group’s application.

Obria representatives declined a request to be interviewed for this article. But in a 2018 interview, Kathleen Bravo, CEO of the Obria Group, described the organization’s approach.

“By reducing sexual risk, you would have less women getting sick with STDs and cancer and pregnancies,” said Bravo, a devout Catholic. “In other words, teach them to not even go down that path.”

Sexual health educators, tasked with reversing four straight years of record levels of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis across the nation, regard Obria’s prohibition against condoms as reckless and dismiss its focus on abstinence as wishful thinking.

“It’s hard to fathom how a health care provider could test someone for an STI [sexually transmitted infection], have the results either be negative or positive and not provide them with information about the efficacy of condoms in STI protection,” said Philip Yaeger, executive director of Radiant Health Centers, a community provider in Irvine that receives Title X funds.

From 2013 to 2017, the number of gonorrhea cases across the country increased 67 percent; syphilis rose by 76 percent. The number of cases of gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia reached 2.3 million in 2017. About 30,000 people are newly infected with HIV each year.

Left untreated, sexually transmitted diseases can lead to infertility, cervical cancer, blindness and dementia. The number of cases of pregnant women who pass along syphilis to their babies more than doubled from 2013 to 2017 in the U.S., resulting in scores of newborn deaths and hundreds of children with severe health complications.

In Orange County, among the wide boulevards and gleaming office towers where Obria maintains its headquarters, sexually transmitted diseases are an unrelenting force: From 2013 to 2017, gonorrhea cases rose by 129 percent, chlamydia by 65 percent, and syphilis by 99 percent.

To confront the epidemic, health educators from Radiant Health Centers set up tables with sound machines and pulsing lights in nightclub parking lots on most weekends. Over the past year, they’ve handed out 25,000 condoms and oodles of lubricant.

Tiffany Hendrix, Radiant’s director of Health Education and Prevention—who takes an unsentimental view of sexuality after becoming a teenage mother—travels from high school to high school with a model penis and vagina instructing students on how to properly use condoms.

“It doesn’t matter what our beliefs are,” Hendrix said. “It’s our job to educate a person so they can make informed decisions, like with diabetes or cholesterol.”

But the conservative Christians helping fuel the growth in religion-based medical care in the U.S. say doctrinal beliefs rightfully determine the services offered in their hospitals and clinics, even when it involves virulent sexually transmitted diseases.

“Contraception is seen as harming the gifts God gave us,” said Theresa Notare, assistant director of the Natural Family Planning Program at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “You can’t put in physical barriers like condoms or chemical substances that are going to obstruct the natural design of the ovaries.”

“There are no exceptions,” Notare said, even for STDs and HIV.

If a spouse is HIV infected, she said, withholding sex becomes a gesture of love. “The very difficult question has to be asked: Do we never have sex again? Quite frankly, because of a life-threatening disease, I would interpret it as yes.”

Catholic and evangelical Christian advocates herald President Donald Trump as an unlikely champion who, after decades of wobbly promises from Republican lawmakers and presidents, is delivering on their agenda.

The administration has worked methodically to appoint judges who oppose abortion rights; stamp out Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers; reverse Obama-era mandates on employers to include birth control in insurance coverage; and give primacy to abstinence sexual education in schools.

In loosening long-standing requirements that clinics provide the full suite of birth control options, including condoms, the Trump administration has allowed what were once makeshift anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers—which typically offered pregnancy tests and, at most, operated an ultrasound machine—to become certified medical clinics.

Over the next three years, Obria could receive $5.1 million in federal family planning funds for its California clinics. But Bravo, who operates 38 clinics in six states, has grander visions: She wants Obria to become a nationwide alternative to Planned Parenthood, launching a $240 million capital campaign to open more sites.

“We put huge amounts of money into marketing our medical clinics to make sure that women know that we’re here in their city and these are the services that we provide,” Bravo said.

But Obria’s main website and the Obria Direct app for patients do not clearly indicate the organization’s religious convictions or how its religious beliefs limit its medical offerings.

The organization’s homepage portrays a prosaic medical practice “devoted to taking care of you holistically” and providing “the support and answers you need in regards to your sexual health.” The list of services includes STD testing and treatment, HIV testing, well-woman care and health education. Embedded in a lengthy description of the failure rates and possible complications of intrauterine devices, birth control pills, condoms, and patches on Obria’s “Birth Control” page are notes that “Obria Medical Clinics does not prescribe birth control” and that natural family planning “is ineffective at preventing STDs.”

Medical facilities are not required to inform patients of religious affiliations or the limits of health care options.

The number of Catholic-affiliated hospitals across the country has grown rapidly in recent years, especially as hospital systems have consolidated. Five of the top ten hospital systems by net patient revenue are associated with the Roman Catholic Church. But more than a third of women who visit a Catholic hospital for reproductive care are unaware of the religious affiliation, according to researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of California-San Francisco.

David Magnus, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, said clinics such as Obria are essentially pulling a “bait and switch” and raised the specter of potential liability for religiously oriented clinics, funded with public dollars, should a patient be given incomplete advice and then contract an STD.

“Pretending that you’ve given adequate advice is misleading and lying,” he said.

This story is part of a partnership with Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit health newsroom whose stories appear in news outlets nationwide. Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Anti-Choice Activist Takes Stand in Lawsuit Brought by Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood’s civil case against anti-choice activists who four years ago smeared the organization with deceptively edited videos went to trial in San Francisco last week, where one defendant struggled to justify why she had recorded abortion providers without their knowledge or consent.

A jury will decide if the anti-choice activists’ surreptitious recordings of abortion care providers were unlawful.

The recordings, used by anti-choice legislators to attack funding for Planned Parenthood, show several Planned Parenthood providers discussing fetal tissue procurement practices with defendants David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt at health-care conferences in 2014 and 2015. Merritt and Daleiden had posed as workers of a fake fetal tissue procurement company and filmed attendees without their knowledge or consent.

Daleiden’s anti-choice front group, known as the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), released the footage as a series of heavily edited propaganda videos, accusing Planned Parenthood of trafficking fetal tissue. The man who killed three people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility in November 2015 repeated talking points from the videos, and Planned Parenthood says violence and threats at its clinics spiked after the recordings began surfacing the previous July. Planned Parenthood sued in January 2016.

Daleiden and Merritt face felony invasion of privacy charges in California over the recordings. In September, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Christopher Hite found Daleiden had broken the law by taping private conversations, likely clearing the way for a criminal jury trial. Hite is expected to decide later this month whether to advance that case to trial.

Calling themselves “citizen journalists,” Daleiden and Merritt claim they went undercover to obtain evidence of suspected “violent felonies” committed by Planned Parenthood officials and are thus exempt from legal liability in California. Other defendants, including radical anti-choice activist Troy Newman, claim they were part of CMP’s so-called investigative project.

To establish the defense of going undercover to uncover felonies, a defendant must prove they had, according to California law, a “reasonable [belief]” before the first recording was made that people being recorded had committed or intended to commit violent felonies. The defendants say their research led them to suspect Planned Parenthood of infanticide and medical battery against patients seeking abortion care in order to obtain and sell fetal tissue to researchers. Those claims have since been widely debunked.

But Planned Parenthood says CMP actually intended to smear and shut down the group via the videos. CMP records read aloud last week in court for the civil case indicate Daleiden hoped to “ignite public outrage at Planned Parenthood” and “permanently destroy” its reputation. Merritt’s testimony Friday appeared to support this.

Under questioning by Planned Parenthood attorney Sharon Mayo, Merritt said she recorded about 100 people at the National Abortion Federation’s 2014 annual meeting in San Francisco. When pressed, she could not name specific people she recorded whom she believed had committed violent felonies.

“It was under investigation. That was what we were trying to discover,” Merritt testified.

Merritt declined to either confirm or deny Mayo’s assertion that none of the evidence presented to her on cross-examination showed Planned Parenthood had acted unlawfully.

During questioning by her attorney, Horatio Mihet of the conservative group Liberty Counsel, Merritt described claims against Planned Parenthood she said had convinced her to go undercover that have either been debunked or lack supporting evidence. These included long-discredited “whistleblower” claims made to Congress in 2000 accusing Planned Parenthood of harvesting organs from living fetuses. The whistleblower, who worked as a technician for two tissue procurement companies, admitted to fabricating many of the claims and accepting over $10,000 from an anti-choice group in exchange for damaging information.

Since the release of the deceptive CMP videos, investigations launched by anti-choice state lawmakers into Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation program have cleared the organization of wrongdoing, as did presiding U.S. District Judge William Orrick III in a related case in 2016. Orrick last month said there was no evidence fetuses were delivered alive in Planned Parenthood facilities and barred trial evidence allegedly proving they had been.

The civil trial is expected to run through at least November 8 in federal court in San Francisco.

Supreme Court Takes First Abortion Rights Case With Kavanaugh on the Bench

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday it would hear its first major abortion rights case since Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the bench, in a case challenging a clinic shutdown law in Louisiana.

The case threatens to upend the 2016 decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which struck down parts of a Texas law meant to shut down abortion clinics. It could also affect the ability of clinics and doctors to sue on behalf of their patients to block abortion rights restrictions. 

June Medical Services v. Gee challenges Louisiana’s Act 620, a law passed by the state’s Republican-dominated legislature requiring doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital—a regulation identical to a Texas provision declared unconstitutional three years ago by the Roberts Court in Whole Woman’s Health.

The fight over Act 620 has bounced around the federal courts for years. Former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed Act 620 into law in June 2014. The law was scheduled to go into effect on September 1, 2014, giving doctors only 81 days to obtain the privileges. Attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) sued in August 2014, arguing the act was impossible to comply with and unduly burdened abortion rights. A federal court issued a temporary restraining order that month, allowing the provision to take effect but blocking enforcement while doctors tried to meet the requirement. 

The district court temporarily blocked the law again in 2016 before permanently blocking it in April 2017, ruling it was unconstitutional. Attorneys for the state of Louisiana appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the lower court and ruled Act 620 could take effect, in a rogue decision that effectively declared the Whole Woman’s Health ruling was limited to the fight over clinic closure laws in Texas. In February, the Roberts Court issued an emergency order pausing that Fifth Circuit decision while advocates prepared their petition for review to the Supreme Court. Advocates filed for review and asked the Supreme Court to simply reverse the Fifth Circuit, since it was in such conflict with the underlying precedent of Whole Woman’s Health. 

On Friday, though, the Court declined to summarily reverse the Fifth Circuit, and instead granted review of the entire case. Had the Court summarily reversed the Fifth Circuit, then the lower court decision to block Act 620 would stand and the fight over the law would be effectively over. Friday’s decision by the Roberts Court means there is still a chance the law could take effect and threaten clinics around the state. 

“Louisiana has tried everything under the sun to decimate access to abortion care,” Kathaleen Pittman, clinic administrator at Hope Medical Group, a plaintiff in this case, said in a statement. “The situation here is already dire and this law would be the last straw for most of the remaining clinics. We’re hopeful that the Court will recognize how devastating this law would be for women in our state.”

The Court also granted a request by the state of Louisiana to reconsider whether abortion providers have standing in this context to challenge abortion rights restrictions. That means when the Court hears arguments early next year, it will be considering both whether the Whole Woman’s Health precedent extends to clinics beyond Texas and whether abortion providers are able sue on behalf of patients to block abortion rights restrictions. 

“Nearly all abortion cases today are brought by medical providers,” Julie Rikelman, senior litigation director at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “If they couldn’t fight for their patients’ rights, many of these cases would never make it to court, which is precisely why Louisiana is making this argument. This is part of a coordinated national strategy to undermine women’s rights. What’s more, Louisiana’s challenge to third-party standing could have sweeping implications for civil rights, not just abortion, shutting the courthouse door to entire classes of people.”

June Medical Services not only tests the strength of abortion rights precedent, it will test the strength of Chief Justice John Roberts’ stated dedication to upholding Court precedent. The Whole Woman’s Health decision is only three years old, and the only difference between that case and June Medical Services is that Kavanaugh has replaced Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court and conservatives feel that now is their moment to strike and undermine abortion rights law any way they can. June Medical Services is the first real test of their theory, and all eyes will be on Roberts to see if his fidelity to anti-choice politics wins over his stated fidelity to the rule of law. 

The Court decided to take June Medical Services following a Tuesday conference on the case. It has not yet scheduled oral arguments, but they are expected to take place early next year, with a decision likely in the summer.