Victories amidst attacks on reproductive rights

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit July 17 filed by seven state attorneys general that sought to block the birth control mandate in the so-called “Affordable Care Act,” which stipulates that all insurance policies must provide contraception without co-pays. The mandate, which goes into effect in most plans on Aug. 1, is particularly vital to low-income women and women living in poverty, who are disproportionately women of color, young and living in rural areas.

The mandate makes all forms of Food and Drug Administration-approved birth control free to those women for the first time.

The states had no basis for the lawsuit, ruled the judge, because they did not prove they would be harmed by the mandate. The judge also ruled that three Nebraska-based employers affiliated with the Catholic Church failed to show that the religious exemption written into the mandate would not apply to them.

In contrast, according to a report issued July 11 by the Guttmacher Institute, 26 states have agreed to expand income-based eligibility for family planning services under Medicaid.

These two victories in the on-going struggle for reproductive justice for all women are in sharp contrast to the onslaught of attacks against abortion rights.

Guttmacher reported that in the first half of 2012, states passed 95 new provisions related to abortion, family planning funding and sex education. For example, states considered hostile to abortion rights enacted 39 new restrictions, with those passed by Arizona and Mississippi the most restrictive and dangerous to women’s health. While 39 was half the number of restrictive laws passed at this point in 2011, it was higher than in any year before 2011.

“Fully 55 percent of U.S. women of reproductive age now live in one of the 26 states considered hostile to abortion rights,” the report stated.

Among the restrictions are limits on coverage of abortion in health exchanges as part of the ACA in 20 states; limits on access to medical abortion in eight states; implementation of waiting periods in 25 states, with Utah’s the longest, at three days; and required counseling on the “negative mental health consequences of abortion” in nine states, even though these, Guttmacher emphasizes, are “widely discredited by mental health experts.”

Pro-choice offensive in MS, AZ

Taking the offensive in Mississippi on June 27, the Center for Reproductive Rights won a temporary injunction stopping implementation of a law requiring doctors performing abortions in the state’s only abortion clinic in Jackson to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. After granting the injunction on July 1, the judge reinstated the law on July 11 with one proviso: the clinic is not liable for criminal or civil penalties while trying to come into compliance over the next six months.

The New York Times reported on July 14 that letting the law take effect will allow the judge “to see whether or not the doctors would be able to comply with its new regulations. The outcome of that process would have an impact on determining the law’s constitutionality.” The CRR contends that the law’s intent is to close the clinic, which threatens “the health of women and … their constitutionally-protected right to decide when and whether to have children.” (, July 13)

The CRR and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit July 12 seeking to block Arizona’s new law from taking effect because it includes zero exceptions to protect a pregnant woman’s life or health unless she has a life-threatening emergency. The law, which restricts abortion after 20 weeks from the time of a woman’s last menstrual period, is clearly unconstitutional, say the CRR and the ACLU.

The CRR statement reads: “It bans abortion pre-viability, before a fetus can survive outside of the womb, and at a time when most women get prenatal testing to find out whether they and their pregnancies are healthy. … Women with serious pregnancy complications could actually be forced to wait until their conditions worsen before they get the critical medical care they need.”

Despite these attacks, Guttmacher affirms the importance of pro-choice activism. It attributes the mobilization against transvaginal ultrasound procedures in Virginia and the 2011 defeat of the “personhood” amendment in Mississippi with stopping similar attacks in other states. More pro-choice activism is needed to turn back the ongoing attacks around the U.S. n

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