News Law and Policy

Supreme Court Won’t Hear Arkansas Case Challenging ‘Roe’

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The Supreme Court refused to hear a case arguing whether an Arkansas law banning abortion at 12 weeks, with narrow exception, should be considered constitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday turned away a request by anti-choice lawmakers to review an Arkansas law that bans abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy with narrow exceptions, letting stand an appellate court ruling striking the measure as unconstitutional.

Arkansas’ SB 134, known as the “Arkansas Heartbeat Protection Act,” outlaws abortion when a fetal heartbeat has been detected—which can be as early as six weeks’ gestation—and at 12 weeks, with narrow exceptions for the life of the pregnant person, cases of rape or incest, and those that involve a “lethal fetal disorder.”

The law, considered to be among the most radically restrictive in the nation, has been blocked by a federal judge since March 2014. Attorneys for the state urged the Roberts Court to take the case anyway, arguing the time was right for the Court to review the “rigid” viability framework put in place by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey that prevents states from banning abortions prior to fetal viability.

The Roberts Court declined in a one-line order, giving no explanation for its decision.

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“Arkansas politicians cannot pick and choose which parts of the Constitution they want to uphold,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement following the order. “The Supreme Court has never wavered in affirming that every woman has a right to safely and legally end a pregnancy in the U.S—and this extreme abortion ban was a direct affront to that right.”

Attorneys defending Arkansas’ measure had urged the federal courts to rethink Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, as well as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the decision that reaffirmed that abortion is a fundamental constitutional right. In arguing for the courts to grant states the power to re-criminalize abortion, attorneys for Arkansas argued the fact that women could turn over any unwanted births to the state under its Safe Haven law without criminal prosecution for abandonment removed the burden of unwanted pregnancy and thus any need for courts to recognize a constitutional right to abortion.

“Accordingly, even if abortions were prohibited in Arkansas, no pregnant woman would be forced to endure the burdens of ‘additional offspring’ and ‘a distressful life and future[,]’ or mental and physical health ‘taxed by child care[,]’ or general distress associated with an ‘unwanted child,’ or ‘the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it,'” attorneys for the State argued. “The safe haven statute completely eliminates the pregnant woman’s burden of parenthood.”

“Arkansas cannot veto a woman’s decision to have an abortion, period,” Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement. “This personal, medical decision rests with a woman, her family, and her doctor—not politicians. We are gratified but unsurprised that the Court found nothing worthy of their review in this case.”

Arkansas’ SB 134 is not the only pre-viability ban before the Roberts Court this term. The justices on Friday will consider a request from anti-choice lawmakers in North Dakota to review a decision from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals striking as unconstitutional a North Dakota law that bans abortion as early as six weeks. So far the Court has repeatedly turned away any request by anti-abortion lawmakers to revisit the viability rule, including letting stand in 2013 a federal appeals court decision permanently blocking an Arizona law that banned abortions at 20 weeks.

Tuesday’s order turning away Arkansas’ 12-week ban comes about two months after the Supreme Court agreed to review portions of Texas’ HB2, an anti-choice law that places certain architectural and licensure requirements on abortion clinics and doctors. Advocates claim HB2 is responsible for closing half of the abortion clinics in the state and if upheld by the Roberts Court this summer, would leave the nation’s second largest state with ten or fewer abortion clinics.

News Politics

NARAL President Tells Her Abortion Story at the Democratic National Convention

Ally Boguhn

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the story of her abortion on the stage of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) Wednesday evening in Philadelphia.

“Texas women are tough. We approach challenges with clear eyes and full hearts. To succeed in life, all we need are the tools, the trust, and the chance to chart our own path,” Hogue told the crowd on the third night of the party’s convention. “I was fortunate enough to have these things when I found out I was pregnant years ago. I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time.”

“I made the decision that was best for me — to have an abortion — and to get compassionate care at a clinic in my own community,” she continued. “Now, years later, my husband and I are parents to two incredible children.”

Hogue noted that her experience is similar to those of women nationwide.

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“About one in three American women have abortions by the age of 45, and the majority are mothers just trying to take care of the families they already have,” she said. “You see, it’s not as simple as bad girls get abortions and good girls have families. We are the same women at different times in our lives — each making decisions that are the best for us.”

As reported by Yahoo News, “Asked if she was the first to have spoken at a Democratic National Convention about having had an abortion for reasons other than a medical crisis, Hogue replied, ‘As far as I know.'”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards on Tuesday night was the first speaker at the DNC in Philadelphia to say the word “abortion” on stage, according to Vox’s Emily Crockett. 

Richards’ use of the word abortion was deliberate, and saying the word helps address the stigma that surrounds it, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Vice President of Communication Mary Alice Carter said in an interview with ThinkProgress. 

“When we talk about reproductive health, we talk about the full range of reproductive health, and that includes access to abortion. So we’re very deliberate in saying we stand up for a woman’s right to access an abortion,” Carter said.

“There is so much stigma around abortion and so many people that sit in shame and don’t talk about their abortion, and so it’s very important to have the head of Planned Parenthood say ‘abortion,’ it’s very important for any woman who’s had an abortion to say ‘abortion,’ and it’s important for us to start sharing those stories and start bringing it out of the shadows and recognizing that it’s a normal experience,” she added.

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates. In April, Clinton called out moderators for failing to ask “about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care” over the course of eight debates—though she did not use the term abortion in her condemnation.

News Politics

Congresswoman Pushes Intersectionality at Democratic National Convention

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) charges that reproductive health-care restrictions have a disproportionate impact on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

The members of Congress who flocked to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week included a vocal advocate for the intersection of racial and reproductive justice: Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

Watson Coleman’s longstanding work in these areas “represented the intersection of who I am,” she said during a discussion in Philadelphia sponsored by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Cosmopolitan. Reproductive health-care restrictions, she stressed, have a disproportionate effect on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

“These decisions impact these communities even more so [than others],” she told Rewire in an interview. “We don’t have the alternatives that middle-class, suburban, white women have. And we’d rather they have them.”

Watson Coleman has brought that context to her work in Congress. In less than two years on Capitol Hill, she co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls and serves on the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, a GOP-led, $1.2 million investigation that she and her fellow Democrats have called an anti-choice “witch hunt.”

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Coleman said she’s largely found support and encouragement among her fellow lawmakers during her first term as a woman of color and outspoken advocate for reproductive rights.

“What I’ve gotten from my Republican colleagues who are so adamantly against a woman’s right to choose—I don’t think it has anything to do with my being a woman or an African American, it has to do with the issue,” she said.

House Republicans have increasingly pushed anti-choice policies in advance of the ongoing August recess and November’s presidential election. The House this month passed the Conscience Protection Act, which would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face supposed coercion to provide abortion care or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in such care.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) lauded passage of the bill and the House’s thus-far unsuccessful effort to prove that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations—allegations based on widely discredited videos published by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice front group that has worked closely with GOP legislators to attack funding for Planned Parenthood.

On the other side of the aisle, Watson Coleman joined 118 other House Democrats to co-sponsor the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act (HR 2972). Known as the EACH Woman Act, the legislation would overturn the Hyde Amendment and ensure that every woman has access to insurance coverage of abortion care.

The Hyde Amendment’s restriction of federal funding for abortion care represents a particularly significant barrier for people with low incomes and people of color.

The Democratic Party platform, for the first time, calls for repealing the Hyde Amendment, though the process for undoing a yearly federal appropriations rider remains unclear.

For Watson Coleman, the path forward on getting rid of the Hyde Amendment is clear on at least one point: The next president can’t go it alone.

“The president will have to have a willing Congress,” she said. She called on the electorate to “recognize that this is not a personality contest” and “remove some of those people who have just been obstructionists without having the proper evidence.”

In the meantime, what does a “willing Congress” look like for legislation with anti-choice roadblocks? A majority voting bloc helps, Watson Coleman said. But that’s not everything.

“There are lots of bills that Republicans will vote for if their leadership would simply bring them up,” she said.