News Law and Policy

Supreme Court Lets Stand Decision Blocking Restrictions on Arizona Medication Abortions

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The Roberts Court declined to take up a request by attorneys for the State of Arizona to overturn a federal appeals court decision calling the case for medication abortion restrictions "non-existent."

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a decision by a federal appeals court blocking Arizona anti-abortion regulations that would severely limit patient access to medication abortion.

The Roberts Court gave no explanation for its decision, simply listing the case with dozens of others it declined to review.

The regulations, which were issued by the state’s Department of Health Services (DHS) on January 27 under the authority of a law signed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer in April 2012­, restricted the use of medication abortions by requiring providers to follow outdated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protocol.

Shortly after the Arizona DHS issued the regulations, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America sued to block the new restrictions, arguing that enacting the regulations could altogether end the availability of medication abortion in Arizona.

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A lower court initially refused the request and ruled the restrictions could go into effect. Advocates immediately filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit, which issued a temporary emergency injunction, blocking the lower court order and preventing the regulations from being implemented pending the appeal.

In June a unanimous Ninth Circuit then issued a preliminary injunction, calling the justifications for the restrictions “non-existent” and ordered a trial on the law’s constitutionality to proceed in federal district court.

Monday’s decision by the Roberts Court leaves in place that June ruling, which means the case can now proceed to trial on the issue of whether the restrictions unduly burden a patient’s right to choose abortion.

“By allowing to stand the Ninth Circuit’s strong decision blocking this underhanded law, the U.S. Supreme Court has ensured Arizona women will continue to have the same critical and constitutionally protected health care tomorrow that they have today,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement following the Court’s decision.

“The Court did the right thing today, but this dangerous and misguided law should never have passed in the first place,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Politicians are not medical expertsbut politicians have written this law with the ultimate goal of making safe, legal abortion hard or even impossible to access. We are pleased that the courts are recognizing that these unconstitutional laws hurt women and block access to safe medical care.”

The fight over medication abortion in Arizona highlights the ever-shrinking map of abortion access nationwide. Advocates challenging the restrictions argue that should the anti-choice policies go into effect, they would threaten access statewide, but especially in northern Arizona, where Planned Parenthood Arizona is the sole abortion provider.

Should Planned Parenthood be forced to end medication abortions because of the requirements, patients in that part of the state would be forced to travel an average of 321 miles round trip, twice, to access medication abortion.

A trial date in the matter has not yet been set.

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.”