Supreme Court Will Not Hear Case Limiting Abortion Rights

Rachel Roth

The Supreme Court opened its new term with some good news for women: it rejected an appeal from the state of Missouri, which had hoped for one more chance to defend its unconstitutional policy banning abortions for women in the prison system.

The Supreme Court opened its new term
with some good news for women: it rejected an appeal from the state
of Missouri, which had hoped for one more chance to defend its unconstitutional
policy banning abortions for women in the prison system. 

The case,
Crawford v. Roe
, originated in 2005, when a young woman refused
to take no for an answer and eventually enlisted the ACLU in helping
her to exercise her right to make her own reproductive decisions. "Jane
Roe," as she is called in court documents, spent seven weeks trying
to work with the prison system to obtain an abortion, something the
prison had previously accommodated by bringing women to a clinic if
they could afford to pay for an abortion with their own money. A change
in the governor’s office led to a change in that policy. 

While many women face some kind of barrier
to abortion, imprisoned women face the literal barrier of the prison
itself. As the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals put it, "certainly,
no prisoner could simply elect to leave the institution at will to obtain
an abortion." An imprisoned woman will therefore almost always need to be
taken to a health facility where she can receive abortion care. (While
jails may release someone temporarily to obtain health care on her own,
prisons are not likely to do so.) 

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in a related case from Maricopa
County, Arizona. In that case, the sheriff in charge of the county jails
had an unwritten policy to require women seeking abortions to obtain
court orders from judges before being able to access care. That policy
was struck down by the state courts, and the Supreme Court declined
to intervene. 

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The policy in Missouri was even more
burdensome and extreme – it essentially prohibited all abortions unless
administrators from the prison’s private medical company approved
the procedure as necessary for a woman’s health or life. A woman seeking
an abortion for any other reason would have no recourse. 

To allow such a policy to stand would
be to invite attacks on the right to abortion for all women. Jane Roe
had argued that the policy violated both her 8th Amendment
to adequate medical care as a person in prison, and her 14th
Amendment right to reproductive decision-making. The Eighth Circuit
disagreed that her rights as a person in prison to adequate medical
care were violated; however, it found that her right to choose abortion
as guaranteed by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey
was completely eliminated – something no state may do. 

The Supreme Court’s decisions not to
hear these cases should make it clear once and for all that women do
not lose the right to have an abortion because they are imprisoned.
This is the consensus reached by state and federal courts that have
heard cases brought by women when jail and prison officials stood in
their way. And yet things are not always that simple. More recent events
from Maricopa County are instructive. 

After his final loss in the case, the
sheriff told a reporter for The Arizona Republic, "I’m disappointed.
We fought the good fight. I still don’t agree that we should take
females on a voluntary basis to an abortion. I’m still against that.
But we took it to the highest court, and we’ll see what happens
if the situation comes before me again in the jail system
." When
the situation did come up again, members of his jail staff refused to transport
a woman for an abortion – in direct violation of the court’s order.
The result was a four-week delay in obtaining an abortion, and the need,
once again, for legal intervention. 

The sheriff’s intransigence reminds
us that as important as court decisions are, those decisions alone may
not be enough to safeguard women’s rights, especially the rights of
women who are poor and politically marginalized. Rather, constant vigilance,
continued intervention, advocacy, and public education, and the provision
of funds to women who cannot afford to pay for an abortion are also
vital to ensure that all women can carry out their decisions.  

To learn more about the reproductive rights of women in prison, including the right to parent, check out the pieces below!

 Read more of Rachel Roth’s reporting here. And visit the ACLU
Reproductive Freedom Project web site to learn more about legal issues challenging women’s access to reproductive health care in prison. To learn more about helping women
who need financial assistance, visit the National Network of Abortion
web site.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

News Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

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Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”