With the Supreme Court ready to review the constitutionality of restrictions on abortion providers in Texas, new research from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project suggests that between 100,000–240,000 Texas women age 18–49 have attempted to terminate a pregnancy on their own (that is, without help from a licensed medical professional). According to the authors, “the populations we found to be most familiar with abortion self-induction are among those that have been most directly affected by the closure of abortion clinics in the state.” As a result, the study predicts, “abortion self-induction will increase as clinic-based care becomes more difficult to access.”
This data reinforces that efforts to ban, restrict, or otherwise interfere with efforts to obtain legal abortion don’t stop abortion—they often push women to obtain abortion by other means that are far more dangerous.
Those consequences, as it turns out, are what led one conservative Supreme Court Justice, Lewis Powell, to support abortion rights. Justice Powell was no right-to-privacy diehard; he infamously cast the deciding vote upholding the Georgia sodomy ban in Bowers v. Hardwick. But when it came to reproductive freedom, Justice Powell joined the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade and continued to support abortion rights while sitting on the Court.
According to Justice Powell’s biographer, an incident from earlier in his career reinforced that if women lacked access to legal abortion, the result would be unsafe, off-the-books procedures:
Although the biggest abortion-related news last week came from the U.S. Supreme Court, a Missouri state senator (turned Attorney General candidate) took the prize for most bizarre.
Senator Kurt Schaefer—chairman of the Missouri Senate’s interim “Committee on the Sanctity of Life”—wrote a stern letter to the University of Missouri; he suggested that state law prohibited a Ph.D student from researching the effects of Missouri’s mandatory 72-hour waiting period for women who want to have an abortion. The law he cited provides, “It shall be unlawful for any public funds to be expended for the purpose of performing or assisting an abortion, not necessary to save the life of the mother, or for the purpose of encouraging or counseling a woman to have an abortion not necessary to save her life.”
This farfetched attempt to censor academic research on the effects of government policy raises a pair of legal issues (and one psychological observation…).
First, Senator Schaefer’s interpretation of the statute is, to put it mildly, a stretch. The student isn’t going to be “performing or assisting an abortion”; she’s going to be studying abortion—more precisely, the 72 hours between when a woman seeks an abortion and is allowed to have an abortion.
I think it’s a very good bet that the Supreme Court will decide to hear this case this Term, perhaps in conjunction with one of the other cases that deals with admitting privileges laws – either Currier v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, another admitting privileges case, in which the Fifth Circuit actually enjoined an admitting-privileges requirement that would have shut down the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi, or Planned Parenthood v. Van Hollen, in which the Seventh Circuit enjoined an admitting-privileges law. However, both of those cases are still at the preliminary-injunction stage, unlike Whole Women’s Health, which was rushed to trial on an expedited schedule. Still, SCOTUS has been holding onto the petition in Jackson Women’s Health Organization since the spring and may well decide to consolidate it with Whole Women’s Health. (No petition has yet been filed in Van Hollen, as that case is back in front of the district court and scheduled for trial.)
There are a lot of reasons for the Court to grant cert in at least one of these cases.
Perhaps foreshadowed by the dissent in the 10th Circuit that I wrote about here, the 8th Circuit has now officially launched a circuit split regarding the legal validity of the accommodation that allows modified compliance/objection to the contraceptives coverage mandate. Unlike the seven other circuits to have considered the question since Hobby Lobby, the 8th Circuit yesterday issued opinions upholding preliminary injunctions in two cases (here and here), thereby preventing the mandate+accommodation from being enforced against the objecting non-profits.
First, the 8th Circuit determined that the accommodation still substantially burdens objectors’ religious beliefs because it imposes significant financial penalties if they refuse to comply with a requirement that they view as violative of those religious beliefs. As I explained previously, I do think the court was right to focus on the monetary consequences of objection, rather than assuming that merely filing the required paperwork for an accommodation does not or cannot actually make objectors complicit in the way they claim it does.
Like SCOTUS in Hobby Lobby, the 8th Circuit then went on to assume that the contraceptives coverage mandate advances a compelling government interest, which is the next step in the analysis under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act once the substantial burden test is met. So far, so good. But that’s the end of my agreement.
Several Texas abortion providers have filed a petition for certiorari in Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to decide on the constitutionality of a Texas state law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and requiring all abortion clinics to qualify as ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), including requirements that are more demanding than those that apply to other, similar facilities that do not provide abortions. Here is my brief analysis of the legal issues in that case. (Note that this analysis is only of the “undue-burden” issues; there is also a res judicata issue in that case, which I will not analyze.)
The plaintiffs in Whole Women’s Health claim that the admitting-privileges and ASC requirements are unconstitutional because, under the standard identified in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, they impose an undue burden on the right to abortion. There are basically two ways in which these requirements can be seen to impose an undue burden.
On September 3, the 10th Circuit declined to rehear en banc several challenges to the contraceptives coverage mandate filed by non-profit organizations, including Little Sisters of the Poor. As SCOTUSBlog explains, these organizations had not themselves asked for en banc review, having already moved on to SCOTUS, but the judges have the option of calling for a vote themselves, which one or more of them must have done. The vote came down 7-5 in favor of refusal, with the dissenting judges (i.e., those who wanted en banc review) issuing an explanation of their position. On this issue, I concur with the dissent. But I still don’t think the objecting non-profits should be off the hook.
When it comes to the contraceptives coverage mandate, non-profits, and now certain for-profits, are accommodated such that they may be relieved of the responsibility to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for contraceptives coverage if they notify the government or their health insurer of their objection to doing so, such that their insurer (or third party administrator of self-insured plans) can provide free contraceptives to their employees, at no cost to and without the involvement of the employer (all further explained here by Greg Lipper). However, many organizations continue to argue that the accommodation fails to relieve them of complicity in providing contraceptives against their religious beliefs. They want flat out exemption from the mandate. Continue reading →
The Rubio-Huckabee claim that actual and legal personhood start at conception has drawn trenchant responses from Art Caplan on the medical uncertainty of such a claim and David Orentlicher, drawing on Judith Thomson’s famous article, that even if a fetus is a person, woman would not necessarily have a duty to keep it in her body.
Their debate claim that the fetus is already a legal person under the constitution also deserves a response, for it has no basis in positive law. In Roe v. Wade all nine justices agreed that the use of “person” in the Constitution always assumed a born person, and therefore that the 14th Amendment’s mention of person did not confer constitutional rights until after a live birth. In the years since Roe, when the make-up of the court has changed, no justice has ever disagreed with that conclusion, including those who would overturn Roe and Casey. Continue reading →
Does human life begin at conception? For Marco Rubio and some other politicians now running for the presidential nomination in the GOP herd, the answer is yes. There is no doubt in their mind about when life begins. Amazingly despite indifference to science regarding other matters like evolution and climate change, they invoke science on behalf of their advocacy of what might best be called “conceptionalism.” And given what science shows the law must protect every new life.
Those lobbying for conceptionalism aim to outlaw all abortions, no matter how an embryo is conceived. Even if a mentally ill 12-year-old woman is raped by her predatory father, killing an embryo, if one results, ought not be a legal option in their view. When life begins at conception murder is never an option, Rubio and his fellow-travelers aver. [..]
Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, and other politicians continue to assert a common fallacy about abortion—because human life begins at conception, fetuses are persons, and abortion must be prohibited. Indeed, Huckabee and Rubio claim that the U.S. Constitution requires such a result.
But they are wrong. And not just because people disagree about the beginning of personhood. The flaw in the Rubio/Huckabee logic was pointed out more than 40 years ago, even before the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to abortion in Roe v. Wade. In “A Defense of Abortion,” Professor Judith Jarvis Thomson correctly observed that even if we assume that personhood begins at conception, it does not follow that abortion must be banned before the fetus is viable. Indeed, as she wrote, a ban on abortion before fetal viability would be inconsistent with basic principles of law. Continue reading →
Republican candidates convened last night for the first debates of the 2016 campaign. The presidential hopefuls disagreed on every topic they faced — immigration, health care, foreign policy, gay rights, the economy — all but one, that is. Their differences of opinion disappeared each time they were asked about the controversy over the recent release of an undercover video with Planned Parenthood. On the issue raised by that edited film clip, the candidates came together in a rare consensus.
All 17 — from Ted Cruz to Carly Fiorina — staunchly opposed research that uses tissue cells from aborted or miscarried fetuses. The candidates unanimously called for Congress to end its support of Planned Parenthood over its contribution to that research, with some like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal joining party leaders who would force a government shutdown over that issue. This, after Senate Republicans earlier this week failed to clear a procedural vote to defund. […]
Our blogger Michelle Goodwin has a piece up on Politico:
Republicans on Capitol Hill, and now GOP presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, are jumping over each other to defund Planned Parenthood because it transfers fetal tissues to researchers at cost. But if Americans want the benefits of biotechnology—helpful surgeries, cosmetics, vaccines, Alzheimer’s treatment and pharmaceutical drugs—they and their elected representatives need to learn a few basic facts about how these social services and products are derived from human tissue research.
The latest assault on Planned Parenthood comes after graphic video clips were released over the past three weeks purporting to show the non-profit organization nefariously trading fetal body parts for profit. Despite a move by Senate Democrats to block the defunding bill on Monday, Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are joining together to try to shut down the government if Planned Parenthood gets federal money. Just yesterday, Jeb Bush railed against “the hard-to-fathom $500 million in federal funding that goes to Planned Parenthood—an organization that was callously participating in the unthinkable practice of selling fetal organs.” […]
Planned Parenthood finds itself under attack by anti-abortion activists. Not much new about that. But the terrain of the battle has shifted. The way in which fetal tissue for research is obtained at Planned Parenthood clinics is now center stage.
Planned Parenthood stands accused, as a result of a sting operation launched by anti-abortion political operatives, of selling “baby parts” for profit. Edited videos show individuals pretending to be tissue brokers discussing with Planned Parenthood doctors how to get fetal tissue, the cost for tissues, techniques for increasing the chance of obtaining particular tissues and other related issues. The doctors do not come across well. Discussions are in restaurants, there is wine on the table, the attitudes are cavalier and the doctors don’t seem to pick up on the cues that they are getting set up. […]
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 →