Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne asked a federal court to dismiss a challenge to the state's race- and gender-based abortion ban, because the civil rights groups suing can't show the law hurts women of color.
On Tuesday lawyers for the State of Arizona asked a federal judge to dismiss a legal challenge to a 2011 law that bans abortions based of the race or gender of the fetus, because the challengers have no standing to sue.
The law is being challenged by the NAACP and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) who argue the law is unconstitutional and 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.
But Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne defended the law, arguing it does not illegally discriminate against Black or API women because it forbids anyone from aborting because of the race or gender of the fetus. Instead, Horne claims, the law actually protects civil rights, because it is designed to protect minorities and “disfavored genders.”
It is that basic premise though that the NAACP and NAPAWF are challenging as discriminatory and offensive. According to the lawsuit, 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 it violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
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According to the challengers and in the materials submitted in support of the complaint, during the law’s passage, proponents of the measure 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. During passage of the law, proponents 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. Both claims, the plaintiffs allege, are baseless and offensive.
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. Horne pointed to those criminal penalties and the fact that women cannot be prosecuted under the law to further the argument that the NAACP and NAPAWF do not have legal standing to challenge the law because there is no evidence that either group, or its members, are harmed by the law or that they intend to have gender or race-based abortions.
The Arizona case is an important one to watch, and not simply because Arizona is the only state to ban both race- gender-based abortions, but because it gets to the heart of the anti-choice movement’s attempts to co-opt the language and framing of civil rights to advance their anti-equality, anti-abortion agenda. As reported in the Arizona Daily Sun, in 2011 when the legislation was first pushed, Rep. Steve Montenegro (R-Litchfield Park) claimed there was evidence the Black population has a higher abortion rate than other races, calling those who perform such procedures “the people behind genocides” and the reason the law was necessary. But he did not present evidence that Black women have abortions to avoid birthing a Black baby or that providers perform abortions on Black women out of some desire to prevent the live births of more Black babies. Remove the racial stereotypes supporters of the law rely on and their logic simply falls apart, which is precisely the point made by the law’s challengers. Should Arizona succeed in convincing the court that these restrictions are necessary despite the lack of evidence and the reliance on racial stereotypes then anti-abortion activists will have successfully codified into law their vision of civil rights which is one where women of color have no agency to make their own health-care decisions.
The NAACP and NAPAWF have asked the law be permanently blocked. A ruling on that request, as well as the state’s request to dismiss the lawsuit are pending.
So far this year, legislators have introduced 1,256 provisions relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights. However, states have also enacted 22 measures this year designed to expand access to reproductive health services or protect reproductive rights.
So far this year, legislators have introduced 1,256 provisions relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Of these, 35 percent (445 provisions) sought to restrict access to abortion services. By midyear, 17 states had passed 46 new abortion restrictions.
Including these new restrictions, states have adopted 334 abortion restrictions since 2010, constituting 30 percent of all abortion restrictions enacted by states since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973. However, states have also enacted 22 measures this year designed to expand access to reproductive health services or protect reproductive rights.
Signs of Progress
The first half of the year ended on a high note, with the U.S. Supreme Court handing down the most significant abortion decision in a generation. The Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedtstruck down abortion restrictions in Texas requiring abortion facilities in the state to convert to the equivalent of ambulatory surgical centers and mandating that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a local hospital; these two restrictions had greatly diminished access to services throughout the state (see Lessons from Texas: Widespread Consequences of Assaults on Abortion Access). Five other states (Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia) have similar facility requirements, and the Texas decision makes it less likely that these laws would be able to withstand judicial scrutiny (see Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers). Nineteen other states have abortion facility requirements that are less onerous than the ones in Texas; the fate of these laws in the wake of the Court’s decision remains unclear.
Ten states in addition to Texas had adopted hospital admitting privileges requirements. The day after handing down the Texas decision, the Court declined to review lower court decisions that have kept such requirements in Mississippi and Wisconsin from going into effect, and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) announced that he would not enforce the state’s law. As a result of separate litigation, enforcement of admitting privileges requirements in Kansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma is currently blocked. That leaves admitting privileges in effect in Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah; as with facility requirements, the Texas decision will clearly make it harder for these laws to survive if challenged.
More broadly, the Court’s decision clarified the legal standard for evaluating abortion restrictions. In its 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the Court had said that abortion restrictions could not impose an undue burden on a woman seeking to terminate her pregnancy. In Whole Woman’s Health, the Court stressed the importance of using evidence to evaluate the extent to which an abortion restriction imposes a burden on women, and made clear that a restriction’s burdens cannot outweigh its benefits, an analysis that will give the Texas decision a reach well beyond the specific restrictions at issue in the case.
As important as the Whole Woman’s Health decision is and will be going forward, it is far from the only good news so far this year. Legislators in 19 states introduced a bevy of measures aimed at expanding insurance coverage for contraceptive services. In 13 of these states, the proposed measures seek to bolster the existing federal contraceptive coverage requirement by, for example, requiring coverage of all U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved methods and banning the use of techniques such as medical management and prior authorization, through which insurers may limit coverage. But some proposals go further and plow new ground by mandating coverage of sterilization (generally for both men and women), allowing a woman to obtain an extended supply of her contraceptive method (generally up to 12 months), and/or requiring that insurance cover over-the-counter contraceptive methods. By July 1, both Maryland and Vermont had enacted comprehensive measures, and similar legislation was pending before Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R). And, in early July, Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) signed a measure into law allowing women to obtain a year’s supply of their contraceptive method.
But the Assault Continues
Even as these positive developments unfolded, the long-standing assault on sexual and reproductive health and rights continued apace. Much of this attention focused on the release a year ago of a string of deceptively edited videos designed to discredit Planned Parenthood. The campaign these videos spawned initially focused on defunding Planned Parenthood and has grown into an effort to defund family planning providers more broadly, especially those who have any connection to abortion services. Since last July, 24 states have moved to restrict eligibility for funding in several ways:
Seventeen states have moved to limit family planning providers’ eligibility for reimbursement under Medicaid, the program that accounts for about three-fourths of all public dollars spent on family planning. In some cases, states have tried to exclude Planned Parenthood entirely from such funding. These attacks have come via both administrative and legislative means. For instance, the Florida legislature included a defunding provision in an omnibus abortion bill passed in March. As the controversy grew, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that administers Medicaid, sent a letter to state officials reiterating that federal law prohibits them from discriminating against family planning providers because they either offer abortion services or are affiliated with an abortion provider (see CMS Provides New Clarity For Family Planning Under Medicaid). Most of these state attempts have been blocked through legal challenges. However, a funding ban went into effect in Mississippi on July 1, and similar measures are awaiting implementation in three other states.
Fourteen states have moved to restrict family planning funds controlled by the state, with laws enacted in four states. The law in Kansas limits funding to publicly run programs, while the law in Louisiana bars funding to providers who are associated with abortion services. A law enacted in Wisconsin directs the state to apply for federal Title X funding and specifies that if this funding is obtained, it may not be distributed to family planning providers affiliated with abortion services. (In 2015, New Hampshire moved to deny Title X funds to Planned Parenthood affiliates; the state reversed the decision in 2016.) Finally, the budget adopted in Michigan reenacts a provision that bars the allocation of family planning funds to organizations associated with abortion. Notably, however, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vetoed a similar measure.
Ten states have attempted to bar family planning providers’ eligibility for related funding, including monies for sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, prevention of interpersonal violence, and prevention of breast and cervical cancer. In three of these states, the bans are the result of legislative action; in Utah, the ban resulted from action by the governor. Such a ban is in effect in North Carolina; the Louisiana measure is set to go into effect in August. Implementation of bans in Ohio and Utah has been blocked as a result of legal action.
The first half of 2016 was also noteworthy for a raft of attempts to ban some or all abortions. These measures fell into four distinct categories:
South Carolina and North Dakota both enacted measures banning abortion at or beyond 20 weeks post-fertilization, which is equivalent to 22 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period. This brings to 16 the number of states with these laws in effect (see State Policies on Later Abortions).
Indiana and Louisiana adopted provisions banning abortions under specific circumstances. The Louisiana law banned abortions at or after 20 weeks post-fertilization in cases of diagnosed genetic anomaly; the law is slated to go into effect on August 1. Indiana adopted a groundbreaking measure to ban abortion for purposes of race or sex selection, in cases of a genetic anomaly, or because of the fetus’ “color, national origin, or ancestry”; enforcement of the measure is blocked pending the outcome of a legal challenge.
In addition, 14 states (Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah) enacted other types of abortion restrictions during the first half of the year, including measures to impose or extend waiting periods, restrict access to medication abortion, and establish regulations on abortion clinics.
Zohra Ansari-Thomas, Olivia Cappello, and Lizamarie Mohammed all contributed to this analysis.
Abortion opponents regularly talk as though no restriction is off the table when it comes to stripping away reproductive rights. And supporters of abortion rights don’t always set them straight. If we don’t know what our established rights are, we can’t defend them. Pro-choicers need to know why abortion is a constitutional right and what boundaries the U.S. Supreme Court has set out to protect it.
1. Abortion is protected by the rights to bodily integrity and to make decisions about family. The Court explained that decades ago.
The 14th Amendment prohibits states from depriving a person of liberty without due process of law. A person has the right to end a pregnancy without undue interference from the government because that right to liberty includes (1) the right to make decisions about family and (2) the right to bodily integrity.
However, in order to portray abortion rights as illegitimate, conservatives like to argue—inaccurately—thatthe Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade by inventing a right to privacy that is not grounded in the Constitution’s actual text.
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In the pre-Roe contraception case Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the Court did hold that “penumbras, formed by emanations” or various interpretations of the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Amendments protect a right to privacy. But in deciding Roe, the Warren court located the right to privacy in the 14th Amendment’s explicit protection of the right to liberty. Regardless, the Court’s understanding of the rights that protect reproductive freedom expanded beyond just privacy decades ago.
Privacy is barely mentioned in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which established the current law governing abortion rights more than 20 years ago. “The controlling word in the cases before us is ‘liberty,’” the decision explained. It was settled law prior to Roe that liberty includes “the right to make family decisions and the right to physical autonomy.”
Privacy is also a constitutional right, and it was indeed violated by the laws at issue in Roe and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton. Those laws required a woman seeking an abortion to share her reasons for wanting the procedure with legal or medical authorities to have any hope of receiving legal abortion care. However, the law and discourse around privacy at the time of Roe implied a woman should be permitted to use contraception or end a pregnancy because the state should not interfere in decisions made in secret with the permission of her doctor, husband, father, pastor, or others. Casey instead properly recognized that the 14th Amendment protects a person’s right to control her body and destiny.
So why has the idea persistedthat all we’ve got is a privacy right made up out of thin air? A counterintuitive and less textually based right serves abortion opponents, but abortion rights advocates also have a history of telling us abortion restrictions are primarily a threat to privacy. As William Saletan documented in Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the War on Abortion, in the run-up to Casey, pro-choice leaders emphasized privacy on the advice of pollsters and political consultants to appeal to anti-government, anti-welfare, anti-tax, and anti-integration sentiments. While reproductive rights lawyers argued to the Supreme Court that the Constitution’s protection of autonomy, bodily integrity, and equality protected abortion access, outside of court pro-choice leaders told the public the right at stake was privacy. But, ultimately, the Casey decision provided a much fuller discussion of why abortion is constitutionally protected by rights beyond privacy.
Abortion is protected by the due process clauses of the Fifth Amendment (which restricts the federal government) and the 14th Amendment (which was added to the Constitution to restrict the states). As Casey explained, “It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter.” Using the force of law to compel a person to use her body against her will to bring a pregnancy to term is a violation of her physical autonomy and decisional freedom—which the Constitution does not allow.
2. Any pre-viability ban is unconstitutional. Period.
In Casey, the Supreme Court was asked for the sixth time in a decade to overturn Roe, and the Court essentially said forget it. “We answer the question,” the authors of the controlling opinion wrote, “whether a law designed to further the State’s interest in fetal life which imposes an undue burden on the woman’s decision before fetal viability could be constitutional … The answer is no.”
What part of “no” don’t conservative leaders understand? The state may not prohibit abortion before viability. A pregnancy is generally considered viable around 24 to 26 weeks. But, as the Court has recognized, this is a medical determination specific to each pregnancy—so even a 24-week ban would be unconstitutional. Though states continue to propose 20-week bans, every pre-viability ban that has been challenged in federal court has been struck down. The Supreme Court declined two recent invitations to revisit the viability line, set out in Roe and affirmed in Casey, when the Court was asked to review rulings striking down North Dakota’s six-week ban and Arkansas’ 12-week ban. Not even the late Justice Antonin Scalia or Justice Clarence Thomas (now the Court’s last remaining member who has called for overturning Roe) publicly dissented from the decision not to take the case.
It has been “black letter law”—or an established legal rule—for 40 years that abortion cannot be banned before viability with or without exceptions. The government may not condition whether a woman can have an abortion on whether she can prove she has been raped or her health is endangered because she has an absolute right to one before viability for any reason. When Democrats emphasized, for example, former Republican presidential hopefuls Texas Sen. Ted Cruz‘s or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s callousness toward women who want to abort a pregnancy resulting from rape, they may have legitimized the idea that a pre-viability abortion ban with the exceptions Donald Trump supports might be permissible.
Similarly, while it is important to combat the racist stereotypes that animate proposed bans for race- and sex-selective abortion—it should be repeated that requiring any inquiry into a person’s reasons for a pre-viability abortion is flagrantly unconstitutional.
Abortion opponents often try to frame 20-week bans as a moderate compromise. In fact, theyare advocating for a radical departure from Roe and Casey’s viability rule. The Court has been clear that departure will not be forthcoming. So it doesn’t matter if 20-week bans poll well—any pre-viability ban is unconstitutional.
But Democrats who are asked what’s wrong with banning abortion after 20 weeks often talk about health conditions and deference to a woman’s doctor. There is little use in explaining the reasons patients need later abortions to proponents of bans intended to vilify women who have them—that only perpetuates the idea that every possible policy is still up for debate because there are no constitutional boundaries.
And when Democrats, asked questions meant to paint them as extremists, fail to give a straight answer to whether abortion can be prohibited at any point in pregnancy, they miss the opportunity to give an apparently much-needed reminder that—say it with me—pre-viability bans are unconstitutional. In Hillary Clinton’s response to Rubio’s claim that she supports abortion being legal “on the baby’s due date,” for example, Clinton said Rubio should know Roe has guidelines. She didn’t, however, say what they are: A woman has the right to end a pregnancy before viability or if it endangers her health. States can prohibit abortions after viability, and most of them do. That is not to say they should. The idea that women wait until the third trimester to abort healthy pregnancies is a myth; women prefer to have very early abortions, and third-trimester abortions are generally unavailable because only a handful of doctors provide them.
Leading Democrats should not have trouble answering questions about abortion. Democratic National Committee Chair Debbi Wasserman Schultz, who has wrung her hands about young women not understanding the importance of Roe, would do well to make sure she can answer ridiculous questions about “abortions at eight months” with Roe basics herself. That would also be preferable to Nancy Pelosi debating what “abortion on demand” means and whether she supports it. When abortion opponents raise the specter of later abortions to shame women, Democrats should tell them states are constitutionally free to ban post-viability abortions that almost no one is having.
When we can’t explain as basic a rule as “no pre-viability bans,” we invite abortion opponents to move the goalposts.One prominent advocate for gradually re-criminalizing abortion (but who claims to be a moderate) argued in the Los Angeles Times that a law banning abortion at 20 weeks might withstand constitutional scrutiny if it also mandated paid maternity leave, because that would make the pregnancy less burdensome. That is an extremely audacious twisting of Casey, which allowed states to enact laws aimed at persuading a woman to carry to term so long as they do not impose an “undue burden” on those seeking an abortion, but was perfectly clear that she has the right to one before viability. The test is whether a restriction makes it unduly burdensome for a woman to get the abortion she is entitled to, not whether it would unduly burden her to be forced by the government to carry to term.
3. Casey‘s “undue burden” standard is a meaningful protection of abortion rights when courts apply it properly.
Casey changed the standard courts use to determine when an abortion restriction short of a ban is unconstitutional—it did not “kill”Roe. Saying so helps savvy anti-choicers portrays the doctrine protecting abortion as weaker than it isand emboldens legislators to pass blatantly unconstitutional laws.
Casey replaced Roe’s trimester framework, which set out different standards for what restrictions are permissible by trimester, with the “undue burden” standard. Under Casey, the government may try to promote potential life from the outset of pregnancy—but only by trying to influence a woman’s decision, not by trying to hinder her once she has made it. A law with the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking a pre-viability abortion is “an undue burden” on her right and thus unconstitutional.
The provisions of the Texas abortion law challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court case to be decided any day now, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, are clearly unconstitutional; the law requires all abortions to be performed in hospital-like facilities by doctors with hospital admitting privileges. The idea that such provisions are meant to protect women rather than make getting an abortion more difficult and expensive doesn’t pass the laugh test, and the decision of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding them is an outlier. Other courts have assessed the evidence and determined that they have no medical benefit—and, thus, the burdens they impose are “undue.”
But in the run-up to Whole Woman’s Health, too many abortion rights supporters have suggested the undue burden standard is toothless, essentially echoing anti-abortion advocates and a rogue appeals court engaged in an obvious attack on the Supreme Court’s precedent. Rather than encouraging the idea that no burden is “undue” unless it is “insurmountable,”abortion rights supporters should embrace an interpretation of the term more consistent with its meaning in the English language, as the majority of courts have. In an opinion striking down Wisconsin’s admitting privileges requirement, Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals explained a burden is undue if it is “disproportionate or gratuitous.” Even a slight burden resulting from a medical regulation with no medical benefit is undue. Abortion rights supporters should not indulge the idea that shutting down 75 percent of the clinics in Texas might not be.
This matters because public understanding of the law puts pressure on courts and legislators to uphold it. We have to know our rights if we want them to be protected.