The Fifth Circuit decision in Whole Women’s Health v. Cole upholding Texas’ law requiring all abortions, including medication abortions, to be performed in a licensed ambulatory surgical center (ASC) by doctors with admitting privileges at nearby hospitals seems outrageous on several counts. It defies a medical consensus that abortions performed in physician’s offices or licensed outpatient clinics are exceptionally safe. With the risk of death less than 1% nationally and even lower in Texas, first trimester and many early second trimester abortions simply do not need the extensive sterility precautions and other operating room requirements needed for more invasive procedures. Indeed, colonoscopies, which have a higher morbidity and mortality rate, are permitted in non-ASC settings.
Nor does the admitting privilege requirement appreciably add to safety. With hospitalists currently taking over care of most patients admitted to hospitals, the same doctor often does not provide both outpatient and hospital-based care, and emergency room doctors are trained to respond to any emergency. Nor are admitting privileges necessarily an indication of a doctor’s clinical competence. They are denied or awarded on many grounds unrelated to competency, i.e., likely frequency of future admissions, and thus do not usually impact the quality of outpatient care. Continue reading →
Many of us are familiar with the “California Effect.” California’s hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emission standards for cars are more stringent than the federal EPA standards and more costly to comply with. Yet, California’s emission standards have become the national standard since automobile manufacturers have found it too expensive to produce cars with different emission systems – one for California and another for other states – and, obviously, did not want to pass up on California, the biggest car market in the nation.
Such regulatory spillover may also occur in the abortion regulation area as a consequence of the legislative reforms implemented by South Dakota and thirteen other states. These reforms include statutory enactments that require doctors to tell patients that abortion might lead to depression, suicidal thoughts and even to suicide. Failure to give this warning to a patient violates the patient’s right to informed consent and makes the doctor liable in torts. Continue reading →
This paper is likely to piss off people both on the Left and the Right of the abortion issue, which I think of as a feature not a bug ;), but in any event I hope will prompt a good conversation. Here is the abstract:
There was a moment in the 2012 campaign, when Mitt Romney attempted to “pivot” to the center and get away from the statements of those like Todd Akin who made comments about how in cases of “legitimate rape,” the victims’ bodies “have ways to try and shut that whole thing down.” The way Romney did his pivot was to make clear that while he was against abortion, he would, of course, make an exception for women who had been raped or whose pregnancy was the result of incest. This has become something of a moderate orthodoxy among those who oppose abortion. Continue reading →
Anti-abortion groups have found another way to limit previously legal abortions. Building on the analysis in Gonzales v. Carhart, the 2007 case upholding the federal partial birth abortion law, Kansas has now prohibited “dismemberment” of fetuses. This law would ban dilatation and evacuation (D&E) of the uterus by banning piecemeal removal of fetal parts, which is the standard way of performing second trimester abortions. Several other states have similar legislation in the pipeline.
While 90% of abortions occur in the first trimester when suction aspiration or medication abortions are available, most later abortions occur by D&E, which involves several passes into the uterus with forceps or other instruments to remove the fetus. The fetus is ripped apart and removed piecemeal. The Kansas law would require that the fetus first be killed in utero by a KCL injection, and then removed piecemeal. Alternatively, labor could be induced so that a very early nonviable fetus is delivered whole and dead. If it is breathing, it is then not resuscitated because it is too immature to survive. Continue reading →
Allison M. Whelan, J.D.
Senior Fellow, Center for Biotechnology & Global Health Policy, University of California, Irvine School of Law
On Wednesday, March 25, Arizona legislators passed a bill prohibiting women from buying insurance plans that cover abortions on the federal health exchange. Senate Bill 1318 also includes a provision on medical abortions, which are typically used during the first nine weeks of gestation. Medical abortions involve taking two pills within a few days of each other. The law requires doctors performing such abortions to tell their patients that if they reconsider their abortion after taking their first pill, they should return to the doctor for a procedure that can allegedly “reverse” the abortion. The law amends Arizona Statute § 36-2153 to add that at least twenty-four hours before an abortion is performed, the physician must orally and in person inform the woman that “it may be possible to reverse the effects of a medication abortion if the woman changes her mind but that time is of the essence.” The law also requires the Department of Health Services to update its website to include information about the potential ability to reverse a medical abortion. Republican Governor Doug Ducey, who opposes abortion rights, signed the law on March 30, 2015.
Like any law addressing abortion, the law is controversial. Abortion opponents lauded the bill, stating that Wednesday, March 25th was a “great day for women in Arizona who are considering getting an abortion to get all the facts they need.” On the other hand, women’s rights and health care providers’ groups oppose the coverage exclusion and vehemently oppose the abortion “reversal” provisions. Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs called it “junk science” and “quack medicine.” Arizona-based gynecologist Ilana Addis stated that there is no evidence to support this provision and women would essentially be “unknowing and unwilling guinea pigs.” Continue reading →
Allison M. Whelan, J.D.
Senior Fellow, Center for Biotechnology &Global Health Policy, University of California, Irvine School of Law
As the majority of state legislatures get back in session, it is clear there will be no dearth of “anti-choice” legislation proposed and considered throughout the country.
In Texas, Representative Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) is pushing a new law that would provide representation to fetuses in court hearings. This law responds to Marlise Munoz’s case, a brain-dead pregnant woman left on life support for two months because doctors refused to honor her family’s request to remove her from life support. Doctors claimed they were prohibited from doing so because Texas law prohibits withdrawing or withholding life-sustaining treatment from pregnant patients, regardless of their previously-expressed wishes.
South Dakota Representative Isaac Latterell (R-Tea) is sponsoring House Bill 1230, which seeks to ban dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures sometimes used in second-trimester abortions. The bill uses inflammatory and graphic language (for example, making it illegal to “knowingly behead a living unborn child”), arguably intended to provoke disgust over the procedure to increase support for the bill. HB 1230 includes criminal penalties and physicians violating the law may be charged with a Class 1 felony and face fifty years imprisonment.
Fifty Ohio legislators have introduced House Bill 69, a “fetal heartbeat” law that would outlaw abortion after a heartbeat can be detected. This can occur as early as six weeks gestation, before some women even know they are pregnant. Continue reading →
In addition to the closely-watched senate and gubernatorial candidates, 146 ballot questions were up for vote yesterday in 42 states across the nation. Below is a review of the some of the most pressing bioethics issues on the docket and the latest information on what passed according to Politico’s Ballot Tracker. Continue reading →
Citizens of three states had the opportunity to vote on measures considered by many to be adverse to abortion rights during the November 2014 election cycle. While the personhood efforts in Colorado and North Dakota failed, the Tennessee electorate approved an amendment making clear that their state constitution does not protect a right to abortion, and expressly authorizing the state legislature to regulate abortion services.
Unlike the amendment that passed in Tennessee, the state constitutional amendments proposed in Colorado and North Dakota said nothing explicitly about abortion. Instead, the measures sought to extend the protections associated with a “right to life” to human beings at all stages of development. Of course, by extending this aspect of legal personhood to the preborn, abortion necessarily becomes problematic. But these types of personhood measures have failed in every state to attempt them, including Mississippi, which is considered by many to be the most conservative (and anti-abortion rights) state in the country. So why are personhood measures failing even while the Tennessee amendment passed? Continue reading →
The piece was prompted by this week’s news of the white lesbian mother who sued a sperm bank for mixing up the sample she ordered with that from a black donor. The impulse to call one’s mixed-race child a “wrongful birth” gives reason, Dov argues, to rethink the racial preferences that we tend to accept without question; race-matching should be resisted for expressing the divisive notion that single-race families should be preferred to multiracial ones and that families should be set apart by race.
This November citizens of Colorado will have an opportunity to vote on a proposed amendment (Amendment 67) to their state constitution that would define the words “person” and “child” in the Colorado Criminal Code and Colorado Wrongful Death Act to include “unborn human beings.” Similar personhood measures were rejected by a margin of 3-to-1 by Colorado citizens in 2008 and 2010, and a proposal in 2012 failed to receive the requisite signatures to get on the ballot. Is this version 4.0 all that different?
A New Strategy
In short, the language is different, but not in ways that ought to matter for those concerned about the implications for reproductive rights. I was initially surprised that a fourth personhood proposal was able to secure enough signatures to get on the ballot when the third measure was not. After speaking with a reporter from Colorado, it became clear that the strategy this time around was very different.
This most recent personhood effort rode the wave of momentum generated by the 2012 story of a Colorado woman, hit by a drunk driver, who lost her pregnancy in the eighth month of gestation (a boy she had named Brady). At that time, Colorado did not have a law on the books that permitted the drunk driver to be prosecuted for the death of the fetus. Amendment 67, advertised as “The Brady Amendment” was offered as a solution, and there was no trouble generating over 100,000 signatures. Even without Amendment 67, Colorado has since passed a Crimes Against Pregnant Women Act, which criminalizes (with varying degrees of punishment) the termination of a woman’s pregnancy without her consent. This new law does not define the fetus as a person, expressly permits women to choose to have abortions, and certainly is not considered to go far enough for those in favor of sweeping personhood measures. Amendment 67 was thus still viewed to be necessary by some. Continue reading →
Today, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued a decision – following a 10-day bench trial – declaring unconstitutional Alabama’s admitting privileges requirement for abortion providers. The decision is remarkable in at least two respects. First, Judge Thompson employs a brilliant interpretation of Planned Parenthood v. Casey that is different from any lower court opinion I have seen and yet that is well-grounded in the decision. (He had already laid out this framework in an earlier ruling on summary judgment.) It resolves a longstanding puzzle about the undue burden standard, namely whether and how a court should factor in the state’s burden of justification for an abortion restriction when it conducts an undue burden analysis. Judge Thompson focuses in on a little-noticed aspect of Casey, namely its reliance on ballot-access case law. The Casey joint opinion analogizes to the states’ “substantial flexibility in establishing the framework within which voters choose the candidates for whom they wish to vote,” in order to explain why “not every law which makes a right more difficult to exercise is, ipso facto, an infringement of that right.” Yet, in describing the state’s power to regulate elections as “similar” to its power to regulate abortion, the Court suggests that its analysis in the ballot access cases is instructive in the abortion context.
Judge Thompson takes up this suggestion. He points out that, in the specific cases that the Casey joint opinion cites, the Court looked at whether the state’s interest in the election regulation was “sufficiently weighty” to justify the restriction it imposed. In Anderson v. Celebrezze, for example, the Court explained that, when analyzing constitutional challenges to specific provisions of a state’s election laws, the Court
must first consider the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the rights . . . that the plaintiff seeks to vindicate. It then must identify and evaluate the precise interests put forward by the State as justifications for the burden imposed by its rule. In passing judgment, the Court must not only determine the legitimacy and strength of each of those interests, it also must consider the extent to which those interests make it necessary to burden the plaintiff’s rights. Only after weighing all these factors is the reviewing court in a position to decide whether the challenged provision is unconstitutional.
Judge Thompson applies this framework, first analyzing the burden that Alabama’s admitting privileges requirement would impose on abortion access in the state. Finding that the burden would be substantial, he then closely examines the state’s purported justifications for the law and concludes that they are “exceedingly weak.”
The differing results are unremarkable because both the purpose and effects prongs of Casey’s undue burden analysis are necessarily fact driven. But there are some open questions worth highlighting from the decisions. The Mississippi law raises a matter of first impression. Namely, of what relevance is it, if any, that Mississippi women would have to cross state lines to obtain an abortion if the law was upheld? After all, even if the last abortion clinic closed, Mississippi women would have a shorter distance to travel to obtain such services than some Texas women now have because of the other 5th Circuit decision.
In striking down the Mississippi law, the 5th Circuit cited an Equal Protection case from the 1930s involving racial discrimination, and suggested (at least in part) that Mississippi cannot “lean on its sovereign neighbors to provide protection of its citizens’ federal constitutional rights.” The idea being that if a state cannot rely on a sister state to provide education for minorities, a state likewise should not be permitted to rely on a sister state to provide abortion services. Regardless of my feelings about the outcome of the case, I have to agree with the dissenting opinion of Judge Garza that this analogy doesn’t work very well.
Did HHS shoot itself in the foot by providing an accommodation to religious non-profits?
In holding that the contraceptive mandate imposed by HHS on Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood was not the “least restrictive alternative” for providing no-cost contraceptive coverage to women, the Supreme Court pointed to the accommodation HHS recently provided to religiously-affiliated non-profit corporations. Under the accommodation, “eligible organizations” such as religiously-affiliated hospitals and universities can avoid funding insurance coverage for contraceptives if they certify that they have a religious objection to providing such coverage. In such cases, the eligible organization’s insurance issuer must exclude contraception from the organization’s group health insurance plan, and instead provide a separate issuer-funded contraceptive plan directly to employees. Given that such an accommodation is already in place for some employers, the Supreme Court noted, “HHS itself has demonstrated that it has at its disposal an approach that is less restrictive than requiring employers to fund contraceptive methods that violate their religious beliefs.”
One obvious problem with the Court’s assertion, noted in Justice Ginsburg’s dissent, is that the Court expressly declined to determine whether such an accommodation would in fact be permissible under RFRA. Given the challenges to the accommodation-by-certification requirement already brought by organizations like Little Sisters of the Poor, it is far from clear that the current composition of the Supreme Court would uphold this requirement if faced with a direct challenge.
A second, perhaps less obvious, concern about the Court’s proposal that the eligible employer accommodation be extended to for-profit corporations is that HHS may now regret providing it – and as a result, HHS may refrain from making similar accommodations in the future, which would be a significant loss to defenders of religious freedom.
Courts evaluating First Amendment and RFRA claims have long held that they are in no position to evaluate the validity, centrality, or reasonableness of a claimant’s sincere religious beliefs. And while there is room for courts to evaluate whether a claimant’s beliefs are indeed “sincere,” many courts shy away from doing so because of a perceived overlap between judgments about centrality and about sincerity.
In Hobby Lobby, the sincerity of the corporation’s beliefs was not in dispute. Hobby Lobby asserted (and HHS accepted the claim) that it had a sincere religious belief that life begins at conception, and that this belief prohibited it from facilitating access to contraceptives that operate after that point.
But recent news reports have shown that Hobby Lobby has, in fact, been involved in activities that seemingly run afoul of this belief – including investing in pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the contraceptives they raise objections to in their lawsuit, as well as drugs commonly used for abortion; investing in insurance companies that cover abortion and emergency contraceptives; and actually providing coverage for emergency contraception in their own health plan until 2012.
While these facts were not raised before the courts hearing Hobby Lobby’s RFRA claims, First Amendment precedent suggests that they would be relevant to a judgment about the sincerity of Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs. Surely a company that believes life begins at conception would have more difficulty demonstrating the sincerity of its beliefs when some of its conduct supports activities that are in direct opposition to this stated belief. This is not to say that a court would ultimately conclude that Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs were insincere – but rather, that a court could legitimately consider these facts without treading into the dangerous territory of judging the merits and centrality of Hobby Lobby’s beliefs to the exercise of its faith.
At first glance, last Thursday’s decisions by the Supreme Court in McCullen v. Coakley and the New York Court of Appeals in New York Statewide Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce v. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, have little in common. McCullen, which struck down a Massachusetts law establishing a 35 foot buffer zone around reproductive health clinics, was a First Amendment case that dealt with the always contentious issue of abortion. In contrast, N.Y. Statewide Coalition, which upheld a lower court decision striking down a regulation of the New York City Board of Health barring the sale of large portions of sugary soda, was decided on state administrative law grounds, with the court finding that the Board exceeded its authority.
On closer inspection, however, the two cases share several features in addition to their date of decision. One is the failure to give substantial weight to the state’s interest in protection health. In his opinion for the Court in McCullen, Chief Justice Roberts accepted that the buffer zone law was content neutral and therefore not subject to strict scrutiny. Nevertheless, a unanimous Court held that the Massachusetts law was not narrowly tailored to serve the government interests of protecting public safety and access to health care. In reaching this decision, the Court focused on the “toll” that the buffer zone placed on the abortion opponents who tried to dissuade woman from having abortion, rather than the impact of the lack of such a zone on woman seeking reproductive health care. Equally important, the Court showed no willingness to defer to the state’s contentions that alternative regulatory approaches had proved unsatisfactory. Rather the Court insisted that given “the vital First Amendment interests at stake, it is not enough for Massachusetts simply to say that other approaches have not worked.”
Since the likelihood is that many readers of this blog will be asked to comment when the Supreme Court, some time this week, announces its decision in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialty cases here’s a brief refresher and some links. The cases are challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers who choose to offer health insurance to their employees must provide policies that include ten essential benefits-including contraception. The U.S. Supreme Court has heard oral arguments and read the briefs—it’s likely that whatever opinion is issued will reflect at least some of the arguments presented to the Court.
This case is about the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers who offer their employees health insurance must include ten essential benefits, including contraception. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood are privately held, for-profit companies whose owners have sincerely held religious objections to providing four specific kinds of contraception. They believe these contraceptives terminate rather than prevent pregnancy. Many religious organizations and companies have gotten exemptions to these requirements, but this case considers whether private, for-profit companies should qualify as well.
The cases raise three major issues:
Does the Religious Freedom Restoration Act apply to corporations even though it uses the word “person?” (Can companies have religious beliefs?)
Is providing insurance that covers birth control a “substantial burden?” on these two company’s’ religious beliefs?
Does the government have a compelling reason for requiring companies that provide insurance to have it cover birth control?
Nonmedical sex selection is a thorny topic. Usually used to favor males, it has harmed women and resulted in sex ratio disparities in India, China, and other nations where son preference is strong. Sex selection is also troubling because it relies on infanticide, abortion, or the discarding of embryos based on their sex.
Since sex ratio imbalances are not a danger in the United States and equal rights and opportunities for women, though imperfect, are increasingly well-established, nonmedical sex selection in some circumstances, e.g., for gender variety in a family, may be more acceptable. That position, however, runs into the claim that any deliberate choice or preference about the sex/gender of offspring, even for a girl, is inherently sexist or gendered (see Glenn Cohen’s recent post). That position, however, is controversial.
Today two very interesting questions were raised about a common argument raised about sex selection, the risk that it will result in unbalanced sex ratios. Our discussion, I would say, “queered” the typical claim in two interesting ways, and I am curious what others think (to be clear these were my thoughts on questions raised, not putting words in their mouths).