News Abortion

Move Over, Arkansas, North Dakota Is Ready to Outdo You on Anti-Choice Extremism

Robin Marty

Arkansas's brief moment as the most anti-choice state in the country is about to end as North Dakota anti-choice extremists push forward on several bills.

Arkansas had better enjoy its time in the spotlight as the state with the earliest abortion ban in the country. As of next week, North Dakota will likely have it beat.

Arkansas’s “heartbeat” ban was modified to begin at 12 weeks of pregnancy in order to force it through the legislature for approval. No such machinations were necessary in North Dakota, where anti-choice legislators eager to enact any restriction they could find chose to propose a straight ban that would make abortion illegal at the point that an embryonic heart beat can be detected. That would be around six weeks or even earlier via vaginal ultrasound, and less than two weeks after a woman has missed her period.

For any woman, trying to verify a pregnancy, set up an appointment, and jump through any of the hoops necessary to obtain an abortion in less than two weeks after a missed period would be a hardship. But for the women of North Dakota, where the sole clinic offering abortions is on the east end of the state, straddling the Minnesota border, it would be virtually impossible. And that’s just what politicians are hoping for. This session already involves, among other things, bills that would ban “abortion” at conception (even though you can’t have an abortion before you are pregnant), as well as some forms of  birth control.

The legislature has also passed a “heartbeat” ban, as well as bans on abortions for reasons of “sex selection” and fetal anomalies, both of which now head to Governor Jack Dalrymple for signature. He will have three legislative days to approve or veto the bills, but has already indicated he is likely to sign.

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“North Dakota politicians are now leading what appears to be a nationwide competition among anti-choice extremists to see who can do the most to strip women of their dignity and autonomy and endanger their lives,” Nancy Northup, President and CEO of Center for Reproductive Rights said in a press statement. “The passage of this law is nothing short of a frontal assault on the U.S. Constitution, 40 years of Supreme Court precedent, and the health and fundamental rights of women.”

“Today, the North Dakota legislature voted to become the first state in the nation to ban most abortions. We urge the governor to veto this dangerous ban and to take this complex and deeply personal decision out of the hands of politicians, and put it back in the hands of a woman, her family and her doctor where it belongs,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in an email release. “It is time lawmakers put a stop to extreme restrictions like these and the one recently passed by the Arkansas legislature. In America, no woman, no matter where she lives, should be denied the ability to make this deeply personal decision.”

Both groups have noted the unconstitutional nature of the Arkansas ban at 12 weeks and the likelihood of a legal challenge before the bill goes into effect in that state. There is little doubt that they will be looking to block the North Dakota law from going into effect as well if the governor chooses not to veto.

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

News Law and Policy

Federal Judge Guts Florida GOP’s Omnibus Anti-Choice Law

Teddy Wilson

"For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” said Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away."

A federal judge on Thursday permanently blocked two provisions of a Florida omnibus anti-choice law that banned Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds and required annual inspections of all clinics that provide abortion services, reported the Associated Press.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued an order in June to delay implementation of the law.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that a government cannot prohibit indirectly—by withholding otherwise-available public funds—conduct that the government could not constitutionally prohibit directly,” Hinkle wrote in the 25-page ruling.  

Thursday’s decision came after Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration decided not to pursue further legal action to defend the law, and filed a joint motion to end the litigation.

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Hinkle issued a three page decision making the injunction permanent.

HB 1411, sponsored by Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland), was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature in March.

The judge’s ruling nixed provisions in the law that banned state funding of abortion care and required yearly clinic inspections. Other provisions of the law that remain in effect include additional reporting requirements for abortion providers, redefining “third trimester,” and revising the care of fetal remains.

The GOP-backed anti-choice law has already had a damaging effect in Palm Beach County, where Planned Parenthood was forced to end a program that focused on teen dropout prevention.

Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said in a statement that the ruling was a “victory for thousands of Floridians” who rely on the organization for reproductive health care.

“For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” Zdravecky said. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away.”

A spokesperson for Scott told Reuters that the administration is “reviewing” the decision.

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