News Law and Policy

ACLU Challenges Arizona’s Race and Sex Selection Abortion Ban

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A lawsuit filed Wednesday claims Arizona's HB 2443 is racially motivated and based on improper racial stereotypes.

On Wednesday the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona filed a lawsuit on behalf of the NAACP of Maricopa County and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) challenging a state anti-abortion law that they allege relies on harmful racial stereotypes to shame and discriminate against Black women and Asian and Pacific Islander (API) women who decide to end their pregnancies.

According to the complaint, HB 2443 is premised on improper and illegal stereotypes that Black and API women cannot be trusted to make personal health-care decisions without scrutiny by the state and therefore violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. HB 2443 prohibits abortions based on the race or sex of the fetus. In the materials submitted in support of the complaint, during the law’s passage, supporters cited higher rates of abortion among Black women as evidence that Black women either were motivated by a discriminatory intent to prevent the birth of Black children, or were being duped into having abortions as part of a racist plot. Both claims, the plaintiffs allege, are baseless and offensive.

Supporters also cited reports of sex selection abortions in parts of Asia as reason for including that provision in the law. Even though the state’s own statistics show no difference in birth ratio of boys and girls to Asian women as compared to other women, supporters of the law repeatedly made the claim that API women could not be trusted and would engage in these practices simply by virtue of their race.

“Far from preventing bias against women and girls, this law serves only to fuel suspicion and stereotypes about Asian women, their communities, and their culture,” Miriam Yeung, executive director of NAPAWF, said in a statement. “The politicians behind this law do not care about gender justice here or abroad, and are instead using a racist and anti-immigrant law to demean women making serious medical decisions for themselves and their families.”

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The law, which contains criminal penalties, requires every physician providing abortion care to certify that the reason the woman is seeking that care has nothing to do with the race or sex of the embryo or fetus.

“Recent court decisions in ACLU cases have found that the sheriff of Maricopa County engaged in systematic racial profiling, and that state legislators and the governor have supported a law that resulted in widespread constitutional harms to Latinos in Arizona,” said Dan Pochoda, legal director of the ACLU of Arizona, in a call with reporters. “It is thus not surprising that the Arizona legislature and governor passed this law based on personal and inaccurate racial stereotypes that demonize women of color.”

The lawsuit seeks to permanently block the law, which was passed two years ago. When asked why the groups waited so long to challenge the law, Prochodo explained in a call with reporters that given the sheer volume of anti-abortion and anti-immigrant legislation coming through the state the resources simply were not available to do so until now. One of those laws, Arizona’s 20-week abortion ban, was just permanently blocked by a panel of judges on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Despite the fact that HB 2443 is an anti-abortion measure, attorneys representing the plaintiffs were clear this case is about more than abortion. “This law takes the personal and private health care decisions of women of color and exploits them for political gain,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and lead counsel in the lawsuit. “But our Constitution flatly prohibits states from passing laws based on racist stereotypes.”

“Every woman, regardless of her race, should be able to make the best decision for her circumstances, whether that decision is to continue the pregnancy and parent, place the child for adoption, or terminate the pregnancy,” said the Rev. Oscar Tillman, president of the NAACP of Maricopa County in a statement. “We trust Black women to make important health care decisions for themselves and their families and vigorously object to the idea that they do not do so thoughtfully, or that they do so out of animus to their own communities.”

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, names Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, the state’s medical board, and Lisa Wynn, executive director of the Arizona Medical Board, as defendants.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

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.”