Roundups Law and Policy

Legal Wrap: How Many Legal Challenges to the Birth Control Benefit Will Conservatives File?

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The never-ending stream of legal challenges to the birth control benefit shows how focused the extreme right is on making safe, affordable health care an impossibility in this country.

Legal Wrap is a round-up of key legal and reproductive justice news.

The legal battles over the birth control benefit show no sign of slowing down. Last week another new non-profit organization challenged the benefit, bringing the total number of cases filed by non-profit organizations to 61. The School of the Ozarks, a high school in Point Lookout, Missouri, filed The School of the Ozarks v. RightChoice Managed Care Inc., suing both the government and the school’s insurance company, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. This is the second time the school has filed a challenge to the regulations (the first case was dismissed pursuant to the school’s request). The college opposes covering emergency contraception, which Anthem has covered as part of the school’s group health insurance plan since 2010.

In related contraception litigation news, the National Women’s Law Center filed an amicus brief with the Third Circuit in Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, arguing that the benefit is constitutional and should be upheld.

It’s not just insurance coverage for contraception that has conservative lawmakers rushing the courthouse steps. Conservative members of Congress are requesting the Obama administration appeal a decision by a federal court to make emergency contraception available to people under age 17 without a prescription. The Obama administration has not given any indication that it is interested in appealing the ruling.

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Bridgette Dunlap has written a piece for Rewire that’s a great example of how dedicated the Catholic Bishops are to wasting public resources in the name of protecting their narrow, hate-filled agenda.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals advanced the equality agenda last week, ruling that federal public defenders are entitled to same-sex spousal health benefits. In the order, Judge Harry Pregerson held that the Administrative Office of the United States Courts acted wrongly in denying federal health-care benefits to the same-sex spouse of an Oregon assistant federal public defender. According to the court, the rejection was wrong for a number of reasons. To begin with, it violated the health-care plan’s specific ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Also, the court explained that Oregon’s constitutional ban on recognizing same-sex marriage and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) are both unconstitutional as violations of equal protection and substantive due process rights. The decision is the latest to attack the constitutionality of DOMA. In late March, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of DOMA, and a decision is expected sometime in June.

Jury selection in the murder trial of Bei Bei Shuai, the Chinese immigrant charged with feticide after she attempted suicide while pregnant, is set to begin in late August. Prosecutors are moving forward with the case against Shuai even as evidence against her evaporates.

Finally, new sexual assault exam guidelines issued by the Department of Justice specify that rape victims are to be offered emergency contraception as part of routine rape examinations.

Defense attorneys defending Dr. Kermit Gosnell on murder charges convinced the judge handling the case to drop three charges against Gosnell on the grounds the prosecution had failed to supply sufficient, credible evidence babies were born alive and then killed by Gosnell. The case will conclude this week.

The American Civil Liberties Union announced it was challenging a Pennsylvania ordinance that allows landlords to evict tenants who are victims of domestic abuse after stories surfaced of women being threatened with eviction for calling the police to respond to domestic disturbances.

Lastly, there was some progress made on the backlog of judicial appointments with the confirmation of Judge Jane Kelly for the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals. By all accounts Kelly should make a fantastic judge. She’s a graduate of Harvard Law School, clerked in the federal appeals court, and worked as a public defender. But as Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress explains, even a victory like Kelly’s confirmation should be a concern since it appears the only reason Republican’s didn’t filibuster Kelly’s appointment is because she’s got close ties to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA).

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