Two South Dakota pregnancy centers have pleaded to be included in the fight over whether or not H.B. 1217, the bill that requires a mandatory 72- hour waiting period and visit to a crisis pregnancy center before obtaining an abortion, is constitutional. The centers’ argument for being part of the suit? Their ability to expand their business is at stake in the ruling.
Federal District Court Judge Karen Schreier ruled in late December that the two centers met the burden of proof to intervene in the case. That means their attorney will have the right to initiate discovery, take depositions, file briefs and attend the trial as full participants in the lawsuit.
Care Net, at 2411 W. Main St., Suite 2 in Rapid City, is one of three pregnancy centers that has registered with the state Department of Health to serve as a consultation site for women seeking abortions. Bella Pregnancy Resource Center in Spearfish also has registered with the state but did not join the lawsuit. Care Net provides free pregnancy testing, ultrasounds and other resources and support for those facing an unplanned pregnancy. Care Net staff did not return calls for comment on its role in the lawsuit.
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The two centers “bring the voice of these pregnancy centers to the lawsuit and the interests of those centers,” said Rory King, an Aberdeen lawyer who serves as in-state counsel for Cassidy’s New Jersey firm. Because there are about 700 abortions performed in South Dakota annually, the centers argued they could be denied access to that many clients by Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit [my emphasis].
The anti-choice movement often refers to the “abortion industry” and its need to sell abortions to make a profit, yet in the end, the CPCs are arguing that their own “businesses” will be hurt unless the government can force women to visit them, and they will sue to make that happen.
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit Friday in federal district court challenging abortion restrictions passed by Louisiana lawmakers this year.
Despite facing a budget crisis, lawmakers passed seven laws that restricted access to reproductive health care, including abortion services, which the Center for Reproductive Rights claims “individually, and cumulatively” unduly restrict the “constitutional right to abortion.”
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that the laws collectively create a “web of red tape” that restrict women’s ability to access reproductive health care.
“Louisiana politicians are trying to do what the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled decisively they cannot, burying women’s right to safe and legal abortion under an avalanche of unjustified and burdensome restrictions,” Northup said.
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The lawsuit comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision that struck down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law known as HB 2.
Stephen Griffin, a constitutional law professor at Tulane University, told the Times-Picayune that the Supreme Court’s ruling on HB 2 was a “strong rebuke” of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the law.
“I think the Louisiana law and any similar laws are going to be struck down,” Griffin said. “[Justice Ruth Bader] Ginsburg filed a reminder to courts that the five-member majority is going to be looking very skeptically at targeted regulation of abortion providers.”
Among the laws challenged is a law similar to Texas’ HB 2.
HB 488 requires that physicians providing abortion care be licensed to practice medicine in Louisiana and that they be board-certified or board-eligible in obstetrics and gynecology or family medicine. Previously, the law required that a physician be licensed to practice medicine in Louisiana and be currently enrolled in or have completed a residency in obstetrics and gynecology or family medicine.
Ben Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, told the Times-Picayune that the Supreme Court’s ruling on HB 2 “does not predict a favorable forecast” for a similar law passed in Louisiana.
“The sad thing here as we see it is that these judges are replacing the elected officials and the legislative process as the determiner of what is medically important or not,” Clapper said. “We don’t believe that’s how it should be.”
Among the other laws challenged include those that restrict abortion procedures, require a waiting period before an abortion, impose restrictions on the handling of fetal tissue, and ban public funding for organizations that provide abortion services.
HB 1081 targets a procedure known as dilation and evacuation (D and E), which is frequently used during second-trimester abortions. A growing number of states have passed laws to ban the procedure, while statecourts have blocked such measures passed by GOP lawmakers in Oklahoma and Kansas.
HB 386 tripled the state’s waiting period for a pregnant patient seeking an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours.
HB 1019 prohibits a person from intentionally performing or attempting to perform an abortion with knowledge that the pregnant patient is seeking the abortion solely because the “unborn child” has been diagnosed with either a genetic abnormality or a potential for a genetic abnormality.
HB 815 prohibits the buying, selling, and any other transfer of the “intact body of a human embryo or fetus” obtained from an induced abortion. The law also prohibits the buying, selling, and any other transfer of “organs, tissues, or cells obtained from a human embryo or fetus whose death was knowingly caused by an induced abortion.”
In addition, it “require[s] burial or cremation of remains resulting from abortion,” which acts as a de facto medication abortion ban, since an embryo miscarried at home, through medication abortion, cannot in practice be buried or cremated.
SB 33, similar to HB 815, prohibits the sale, receipt, and transport of fetal organs and body parts obtained from an induced abortion. Any person who violates this provision would be sentenced to a term of imprisonment at hard labor between ten to 50 years, at least ten years of which must be served without benefit of probation or suspension of sentence, and may, in addition, be required to pay a fine of not more than $50,000.
HB 606 prohibits entities that perform abortions from receiving public funding, unless the abortion was necessary to save the life of the pregnant patient, the pregnancy was a result of incest or rape, or the pregnancy was diagnosed as “medically futile.”
Most of the bills were passed with significant bipartisan support, and were signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D). Each of the laws is set to take effect on August 1.
”We are asking the district court to immediately block these unconstitutional laws,” Northup said.
Two years ago, 17-year-old Rosa was raped as she fled north from her home country in Central America to the United States. Placed in a Catholic shelter in Florida, the teen learned she was pregnant, and told shelter officials that if she couldn’t end the pregnancy, she’d kill herself. She was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts. Upon her release, the facility in which she’d been originally placed rejected her because of her desire for an abortion, according to a federal lawsuit filed Friday. So did another. Both, reads the lawsuit, were federal contractors paid to care for unaccompanied minors like Rosa.
Rosa’s story is one in a series sketched out in a 16-page complaint brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The suit accuses the federal government of paying millions to religious grantees—including nearly $20 million over two years to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)—that refuse to provide unaccompanied minors with legally required reproductive health services, including contraception and abortion. The grantees are paid by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to house and care for young refugees.
The lawsuit, brought in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, amounts to a fresh test of the degree to which Catholic organizations and other faith-based groups can claim exemptions from federal laws and regulations on religious grounds.
“Religious liberties do not include the ability to impose your beliefs on a vulnerable population and deny them legal health care,” said Jennifer Chou, attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, in a phone interview with Rewire. “The government is delegating responsibility … to these religiously affiliated organizations who are then not acting in the best interest of these young people.”
Mark Weber, a spokesperson for the HHS, which includes the ORR, told Rewire via email that the agency cannot comment on pending litigation.
Escaping turmoil and abuse in their home countries, young refugees—predominantly from Central America—are fleeing to the United States, with 33,726 arriving in 2015, down from 57,496 the year before. About one-third are girls. As many as eight in ten girls and women who cross the border are sexually assaulted; it is unknown how many arrive in need of abortion care.
The federal ORR places unaccompanied minors with organizations that are paid to offer temporary shelter and a range of services, including reproductive health care, while the youths’ applications for asylum are pending. But documents the ACLU obtained indicate that some groups are withholding thathealth care on religious grounds and rejecting youths who request abortion care.
The 1997 “Flores agreement” and ORR’s contracts with grantees, which the ACLU cites in its lawsuit, require referrals to “medical care providers who offer pregnant [unaccompanied immigrant minors] the opportunity to be provided information and counseling regarding prenatal care and delivery; infant care, foster care, or adoption; and pregnancy termination.”
In 2016, the federal government awarded 56 grants to 30 organizations to provide care to unaccompanied minors, including 11 that the ACLU claims impose religious restrictions on reproductive health care.
In one case, ORR officials struggled to find accommodations for 14-year-old Maria, who wanted to end her pregnancy, according to the complaint. An ORR official wrote, according to a document the ACLU obtained, that the agency would have liked to transfer Maria to Florida to be near family, but “both of the shelters in Florida are faith-based and will not take the child to have this procedure,” meaning an abortion.
In another, the complaint reads, 16-year-old Zoe was placed with Youth for Tomorrow, a faith-based shelter in Virginia, where she learned she was pregnant. She asked for abortion counseling, which was delayed nearly two weeks, the complaint says. Learning of her decision to end the pregnancy, Youth for Tomorrow asked to transfer Zoe elsewhere because of its abortion prohibition, even though Zoe said she was happy at the shelter.
For vulnerable youths, such transfers represent a form of “secondary trauma,” according to the ACLU’s Chou.
“These women have already endured so much,” she told Rewire. “The process of transferring these youths from shelter to shelter tears them away from their only existing support system in the U.S.”
Federal officials, according to the complaint, were aware that the religious grantees would withhold abortion referrals. In one case, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston was awarded more than $8 million between 2013 and 2016, although it stated in its grant application that rape survivors wouldn’t be offered abortion care, but instead permitted to “process the trauma of the rape while also exploring the decision of whether to keep the baby or plan an adoption.”
The lawsuit also claims that a contract with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops included language requiring unaccompanied minors who were pregnant to be given information and counseling about pregnancy termination, but the ORR removed that language after the USCCB complained.
The USCCB did not respond to Rewire‘s request for comment. But in a letter last year to the ORR, the USCCB and five religious groups, including some ORR grantees, wrote they could not facilitate health-care services for unaccompanied minors that run contrary to their beliefs.
The lawsuit is the second the ACLU has filed recently against the federal government over religious privileges.
Last month, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Actsuit demanding that the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services release complaints against federally funded Catholic hospitals, where patients have reported being denied emergency medical care in violation of federal law.
In 2009, the ACLU also sued the federal government for allowing USCCB to impose religious restrictions on a taxpayer-funded reproductive health program for trafficking survivors. In 2012, a district court ruled in the ACLU’s favor, and the government appealed. The First Circuit Court of Appeal later dismissed the case as “moot” because the government did not renew USCCB’s contract.