Daily Women's Health Policy Report

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Daily Women's Health Policy Report by the National Partnership for Women & Families
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Group of Wash. Senators Aims To Protect Contraceptive Coverage Rules

Tue, 01/06/2015 - 18:23

A group of Democratic state senators in Washington is expecting a difficult fight this session over their effort to ensure that women have access to contraceptive coverage, MyNorthwest.com reports.

Group of Wash. Senators Aims To Protect Contraceptive Coverage Rules

January 6, 2015 — A group of Democratic state senators in Washington is expecting a difficult fight this session over their effort to ensure that women have access to contraceptive coverage, MyNorthwest.com reports.

The group is proposing legislation (S 5026) that aims to protect contraceptive coverage in the state in response to the Supreme Court's ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which allowed some businesses to refuse to include such coverage in their employer-sponsored health plans if the companies' owners have religious objections.

State Sen. Karen Keiser (D) said, "We think [the ruling is] a total overreach and we think that breaks our state laws and our state constitution" (Kerns, MyNorthwest.com, 1/5).

The legislation argues that employers' move limiting access to no-cost contraceptives violates Washington state's anti-discrimination laws and declares that "barrier-free access to birth control remains a fundamental right" (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/6/14).

Although the bill has several Democratic supporters, Keiser said passing the measure in the Republican-led state Senate will be difficult. She noted that conservative lawmakers could prevent the bill from being considered (MyNorthwest.com, 1/5).


Texas Lawmakers Plan Additional Abortion Restrictions, Provider Requirements

Tue, 01/06/2015 - 17:54

Texas lawmakers who oppose abortion rights plan to propose additional abortion restrictions and clinic regulations during the 2015 state legislative session, the San Angelo Standard-Times reports.

Texas Lawmakers Plan Additional Abortion Restrictions, Provider Requirements

January 6, 2015 — Texas lawmakers who oppose abortion rights plan to propose additional abortion restrictions and clinic regulations during the 2015 state legislative session, the San Angelo Standard-Times reports.

Although provisions of a state antiabortion-rights law (HB 2) passed in 2013 remain under court review, officials with antiabortion-rights groups said they want to tighten the restrictions even further.

Overall, HB 2 has resulted in the closure of the majority of the about 40 clinics that were operating in the state prior to the law's implementation, the Standard-Times reports.

Planned Parental Notification Law

State Rep. Matt Krause (R) is planning to propose a bill that would place additional restrictions on minors seeking a judicial bypass to state parental involvement requirements for abortions, among other provisions.

Under current law, minors who determine that it is not in their best interest to involve their parents in their abortion decisions are required to demonstrate to a judge that they are mature enough to choose to have an abortion and that they are aware of all of their options. The judge then decides whether parental notification is in the minor's best interest. According to the Standard-Times, the law allows minors to apply for the bypass in any county in the state.

The new bill would permit minors to apply for the bypass only in the county where they reside or in an adjacent county if their home county has a population of fewer than 50,000.

Susan Hays, a lobbyist for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said the measure would create challenges for minors in rural areas. Hays noted that some judges refuse to hear any judicial bypass cases, while some rural Texas counties share one district judge. Further, she said confidentiality can be difficult in some rural locations.

Planned Clinic Requirement

Separately, state Rep. Debbie Riddle (R) proposed a bill that would require clinic staff to undergo a training program to help identify and respond to signs that women have experienced human trafficking.

Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas spokesperson Sarah Wheat said all PPGT patients are currently screened for potential signs of human trafficking and domestic violence. Wheat added that the proposed legislation could have a bigger effect if it required training for all providers rather than only abortion clinic staff (Martin, San Angelo Standard-Times, 1/3).


Blogs Reflect on 2014 Repro Rights Developments, Impact of Abortion Stories, More

Tue, 01/06/2015 - 17:40

Read the week's best commentaries from bloggers at the National Women's Law Center, NARAL and more.

Blogs Reflect on 2014 Repro Rights Developments, Impact of Abortion Stories, More

January 6, 2015 — Read the week's best commentaries from bloggers at the National Women's Law Center, NARAL and more.

YEAR IN REVIEW: "The Good, the Bad, and the Truly Appalling: What Happened to Reproductive Rights in 2014," Rachel Easter, National Women's Law Center's "Womenstake": Easter discusses several "lowlights" of the past year regarding "women's ability to access comprehensive reproductive care." For example, she notes that states "continued to pass laws aimed at restricting access to abortion," particularly in Texas, where "thousands of women effectively lost access to safe, legal abortion when clinics were forced to close" as a result of a 2013 state law (HB 2). Meanwhile, a Supreme Court ruling to allow certain for-profit corporations to deny contraceptive coverage in their health plans "leaves the women who work for these companies without a critical benefit in the health insurance they earned through their work and paid for through their premiums," Easter writes. However, Easter also notes several "bright spots for women's access to reproductive health," including the defeat of several state antiabortion-rights measures, the failed "'personhood' ballot measures" in Colorado and North Dakota, the "introduction of broad women's agendas" in New York and Pennsylvania, and several court rulings that "block[ed] terrible laws passed by state politicians that interfere in a woman's personal medical decisions" (Easter, "Womenstake," NWLC, 12/31/14).

What others are saying about abortion restrictions:

~ "What to Expect in Reproductive Rights in 2015," Rebecca, NARAL Pro-Choice America's "Blog for Choice."

~ "Top 10 Victories for Women in 2014," Robin Marty, Care2.

~ "Top 10 Defeats for Women in 2014," Marty, Care2.

~ "The Top 10 Feminist Moments of 2014," Stephanie Hallett, Ms. Magazine blog.

ABORTION RESTRICTIONS: "Federal Court Agrees: Women Can't Be Forced To Have an Ultrasound Before an Abortion," Kevin Mathews, Care2: A panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that North Carolina's requirement that a woman undergo an ultrasound before an abortion is "unconstitutional," thus "ensuring that doctors won't have to first attempt to guilt women about a private medical decision," Mathews writes. Specifically, the three-judge panel unanimously ruled that "[f]orcing doctors to perform a non-necessary ultrasound and talk about the fetus in detail infringes on their professional discretion and free speech rights." However, Mathews notes that "the battle still might not be over" because "anti-abortion activists in the state ... have vowed to contest the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court." While it is "unknown whether the Supreme Court would take the case ... it may be enticed to considering that other states have ultrasound laws on the books, including one in Texas which has been upheld in federal court" (Mathews, Care2, 12/23/14).

What others are saying about abortion restrictions:

~ "Chart of the Day: Over 200 New Anti-Choice State Laws Enacted in the Last 4 Years," Maya Dusenbery, Feministing.

~ "Baby Talk," S.M., The Economist's "Democracy in America."

ABORTION-RIGHTS MOVEMENT: "New Study Shows That Sharing Abortion Stories Changes People's Minds," Katie Halper, Feministing: Halper comments on a "new study," which "shows that when anti-choice people hear in person accounts from women who have had abortions, they are more likely to start supporting reproductive freedom." According to Halper, preliminary findings from research conducted by a team at the University of California-Los Angeles and Planned Parenthood show that "in-person conversations with" groups consisting of women who had abortions and those who have not led "to increased support of legalizing abortion." According to the study, initial surveys found that "39 percent of voters said they supported legal abortion access but after talking with the volunteers support reached almost 50 percent." Further, "the effect of speaking with the volunteers who had had abortions was even stronger." For example, individuals who spoke with women who had abortions "were more likely to tell other members of their households about their conversations" (Halper, Feministing, 12/23/14).

What others are saying about the abortion-rights movement:

~ "Fight Anti-Abortion Laws in 2015 -- But Help Pass Pro-Choice Bills, Too," Marty, TPM DC.

CONTRACEPTION: "Want To Reduce the Abortion Rate? Support IUDs." Amanda Marcotte, Slate's "XX Factor": There is "significant scientific evidence to support" the idea that the recent decline in the U.S. abortion rate is the result of "improved contraception use," Marcotte writes. While opponents of abortion rights have sought to "attribute the decline to a rise in abortion restrictions," Marcotte notes that a study by Ibis Reproductive Health and the University of California-San Francisco's Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health contradicts those claims. Marcotte writes, "Researchers staged the study in Iowa, one of the few states where access to both family planning and abortion services increased during the study period, between 2005 and 2012," and found that widening access to care was correlated with an increase "in demand for IUDs and implants at Iowa family planning clinics -- from 1% to 15% of all clients," while the abortion rate decreased "dramatic[ally] " (Marcotte, "XX Factor," Slate, 12/23/14).

CRIMINALIZING PREGNANCY: "New Jersey Supreme Court: Methadone Treatment While Pregnant Not Child Abuse," Jessica Mason Pieklo, RH Reality Check: The New Jersey Supreme Court last month unanimously reversed a lower court's decision by ruling "that the state's civil child abuse statute cannot be used to charge patients who receive medically prescribed methadone treatment while pregnant," Mason Pieklo writes. She notes that the case involved a woman referred to by the court as Y.N., who hospital staff recommended "enter a methadone maintenance treatment program," which she did "about a month before she gave birth to a healthy baby boy who was successfully treated for symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome ... which is a group of side effects that may result from methadone treatment and other medications." Mason Pieklo writes that the NAS diagnosis caused Y.N. to be reported to the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency, which ruled that she "abused her child because she agreed with her physician's recommendation and followed the prescribed course of methadone treatment while pregnant." Mason Pieklo adds that the state Supreme Court's decision "rejects fear-based speculation of drug harm to infants and instead listens to experts in maternal, fetal, and addiction treatment as to the best manner to address the issues of drug use during pregnancy and potential fetal harm" (Mason Pieklo, RH Reality Check, 12/23/14).

What others are saying about criminalizing pregnancy:

~ "Trending: Prosecutions of Pregnant Women Continue in Wisconsin," Abigail Omojola, National Women's Law Center's "Womenstake."

SUPREME COURT: "On the Docket: The Top 4 SCOTUS Cases To Follow in 2015," Brianna Kovan, Ms. Magazine blog: The "current [Supreme Court] term provides the justices ample opportunities to right their wrongs" following "a year of decisions that narrowed women's reproductive and economic rights," writes Kovan, discussing several upcoming and potential cases. For example, she notes that the Supreme Court will "decide to what extent employers must accommodate pregnant workers (if at all)" when it rules on Young v. UPS, a case that "could affect any woman who becomes pregnant while employed." Further, Kovan notes that the National Women's Law Center anticipates that "one or more" lawsuits over the contraceptive coverage requirement will "reach the Supreme Court" in 2015. Similarly, it is "only a matter of time before ... [Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider] laws make their way to SCOTUS," she writes, noting that if the high court accepts a TRAP law case, it "could affect Roe v. Wade" and "have a huge impact on women's reproductive health rights" (Kovan, Ms. Magazine blog, 1/2).


Doctors at Catholic Hospitals Concerned Over Tubal Ligation Ban

Tue, 01/06/2015 - 17:31

Ob-gyns working at Catholic hospitals are concerned that the institutions' ban on tubal ligation violates the accepted standard of care and presents a "risk of harm" to women, according to a study that surveyed providers across the country, The Atlantic reports.

Doctors at Catholic Hospitals Concerned Over Tubal Ligation Ban

January 6, 2015 — Ob-gyns working at Catholic hospitals are concerned that the institutions' ban on tubal ligation violates the accepted standard of care and presents a "risk of harm" to women, according to a study that surveyed providers across the country, The Atlantic reports.

For the study, a follow up to a 2012 study evaluating ob-gyns' conflicts with Catholic hospitals over patients' care, researchers from the University of Chicago, University of California-San Francisco and colleagues conducted in-depth interviews with a subset of physicians who participated in the original research.

The participants worked at Catholic hospitals, which are governed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. The directives, which are enforced by local bishops, ban Catholic facilities from performing sterilizations, abortions and certain other procedures.

Background

Sterilization is the second-most-common birth control method in the U.S. Ob-gyns often perform tubal ligations in conjunction with cesarean sections so women do not have to have a second surgery for the sterilization. A sterilization procedure is performed at the end of about one in 10 U.S. childbirths, according to The Atlantic. Women of color and those without a college education are more likely than other groups to use sterilization as their birth control method.

In the past, some Catholic hospitals provided sterilizations if they were medically indicated, such as when a woman was undergoing a C-section and another pregnancy would present a health risk, The Atlantic reports.

However, around the early 2000s, the Vatican sought stricter enforcement of the directives. Since then, the number of Catholic hospitals in the U.S. has grown, in part because of mergers with secular facilities. The number of Catholic hospitals increased by 16% from 2001 to 2011, according to The Atlantic.

Study Findings

In the 2012 study, about half of ob-gyns at Catholic hospitals reported conflicts with religiously based policies relating to patient care.

In the follow up, the researchers expected the doctors to mention conflicts over abortion, but they were surprised by how often they also mentioned denials of medically indicated sterilization as the source of conflicts, co-author Lori Freedman, a medical sociologist at the University of California-San Francisco, said.

This type of denial "was the most common thing that bothered people in a daily way," she said, adding, "Doctors were really dying to talk about this because it's kind of freaking them out."

Further, study co-author Debra Stulberg of the University of Chicago said, "Many doctors we spoke to had been given assurances when they were hired or when the hospital changed ownership that there would be ways of allowing tubal ligations if it was medically in the women’s best interest. That was not the case."

The Catholic Hospital Association, which represents the more than 600 Catholic hospitals in the U.S., declined to comment on the study but has said in the past that requiring hospitals to provide sterilization would conflict with "the fundamental values of Catholic healthcare" (Miller, The Atlantic, 1/2).


L.A. Times: Appeals Court 'Made the Right Decision' in Striking Down N.C. Ultrasound Law

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 19:24

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals "made the right decision ... when it struck down a key provision in a North Carolina law [HB 854] requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds on women seeking abortions and then both show and describe the sonogram images to them," a Los Angeles Times editorial argues.

L.A. Times: Appeals Court 'Made the Right Decision' in Striking Down N.C. Ultrasound Law

January 5, 2015 — The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals "made the right decision ... when it struck down a key provision in a North Carolina law [HB 854] requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds on women seeking abortions and then both show and describe the sonogram images to them," a Los Angeles Times editorial argues.

The Times adds that the provision, which the court found to be "an unconstitutional violation of the free-speech rights of doctors," is one of many state laws nationwide "designed not to protect the health of a woman and her fetus but to discourage her from exercising her constitutionally protected right to abortion."

While "[t]here's nothing wrong with providing pertinent information about risks and benefits of a medical procedure so that a patient can make an informed choice," the North Carolina provision "goes beyond science, requiring a doctor to show his patient the sonogram and describe the fetus in detail -- even if she averts her eyes and refuses to listen," the Times continues.

The editorial adds, "The purpose is not to inform the patient about objective, scientific facts, but merely to persuade her not to have an abortion" (Los Angeles Times, 12/23/14).


Obama Will Not Re-nominate Controversial Judicial Nominee Boggs

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 19:23

President Obama in 2015 will not re-nominate judicial nominee Michael Boggs, who failed to be confirmed after drawing opposition from Democrats for his conservative views, including those on abortion rights, Politico reports.

Obama Will Not Re-nominate Controversial Judicial Nominee Boggs

January 5, 2015 — President Obama in 2015 will not re-nominate judicial nominee Michael Boggs, who failed to be confirmed after drawing opposition from Democrats for his conservative views, including those on abortion rights, Politico reports.

Georgia's two Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, announced the news in a press release on Tuesday, and a White House official confirmed the president's decision on Wednesday. The senators said White House chief of staff Denis McDonough informed them more than a month ago of Obama's decision to not re-nominate Boggs (Everett, Politico, 12/31/14).

Background

Obama nominated Boggs, a Georgia appeals judge and former state legislator, to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

In May, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Boggs sharply about his support for antiabortion-rights legislation during his time as a state legislator from 2000 to 2004. Democrats and progressive groups also raised concern about Boggs' support for displaying the Confederate flag and opposition to same-sex marriage.

In September, Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Boggs did not have enough votes in the committee to advance his nomination. His nomination expired at the end of 2014 (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/23/14).

Boggs was nominated along with six other Georgia judicial nominees whom Obama, Chambliss and Isakson originally agreed to support, but he was the only one not confirmed. The group included nominees favored by both Republicans and Democrats (Bendery, Huffington Post, 12/31/14).

Reaction, Next Steps

Chambliss and Isakson said in a statement, "We regret the President's decision, as we have supported Judge Boggs throughout this process and remain steadfast in our support."

Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), who helped lead the opposition to Boggs' nomination, said, "I'm glad that the President has closed the door on this nomination so we can start the new year looking ahead, not back. There are hundreds of qualified attorneys in Georgia who could serve as a federal judge and I ask that an open and fair process be used to select the next nominees."

Rather than nominating someone for the post as part of a package of judges selected by both parties, Obama will now be able to select a single nominee for the vacancy Boggs would have filled who will be favored by Democrats, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's "Political Insider" (Malloy, "Political Insider," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/31/14).


Debates Over 20-Week Abortion Ban Proposals, Other Abortion Restrictions Likely in 2015

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 19:22

Congress, state legislatures and potentially the Supreme Court are expected to take up debates over abortion rights in 2015, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Debates Over 20-Week Abortion Ban Proposals, Other Abortion Restrictions Likely in 2015

January 5, 2015 — Congress, state legislatures and potentially the Supreme Court are expected to take up debates over abortion rights in 2015, according to U.S. News & World Report (Sneed, U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14).

20-Week Ban

Abortion-rights opponents, including the National Right to Life Committee, intend to support legislation that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, based on the disputed notion that a fetus can feel pain at that point of development.

A number of states have passed such bans (Ludden, "Shots," NPR, 12/30/14). However, lawsuits challenging 20-week bans are pending in several states (U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14). Courts have blocked the bans in two states.

According to NRLC State Legislative Director Mary Spaulding Balch, 20-week bans have better chances for passage in 2015 than in previous years in South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin ("Shots," NPR, 12/30/14).

On the federal level, the House and Senate -- both of which will have conservative majorities -- could vote on a 20-week ban in the new Congress. The House passed such a ban (HR 1797) in 2013, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last year promised to hold a vote on a 20-week ban if the GOP gained control of the Senate (U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14).

Other Legislation

Meanwhile, Tennessee lawmakers likely will push for more abortion restrictions in 2015 because of the passage of a ballot measure (Amendment 1) last fall that was seen as giving the state more leeway to enact such bills, according to "Shots" ("Shots," NPR, 12/30/14).

In addition, abortion-rights opponents have said they will push for legislation in more states to prevent abortion providers from dispensing medication abortion drugs via telemedicine, according to U.S. News & World Report. Seventeen states currently have such bans on the books, although some have been blocked by courts.

Opponents of abortion rights also might seek to restrict medication abortion in other ways. The Supreme Court in December declined to consider a lower court's decision blocking an Arizona law (HB 2036) restricting medication abortion, meaning that the law will remain unenforced for now. However, it is not clear whether the high court's move will make abortion-rights opponents any less likely to push for similar restrictions in other states, according to U.S. News & World Report (U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14).

Spaulding Balch said her group will also fight efforts to increase protections for abortion rights in New York and Washington state, where conservatives gained seats in the state legislatures.

Potential for SCOTUS Case

Mixed rulings by appellate courts could increase the chances that the Supreme Court will decide to hear a case regarding abortion restrictions, "Shots" reports.

Speaking about antiabortion-rights laws in general, Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup said, "Fortunately, many of the most extreme laws that have been passed have been found unconstitutional by the courts, and we have been able to block them." She added, "Courts have recognized that these by and large are sham laws that are designed to make it difficult for women to have abortions. They don't serve any medical necessity, and the courts have seen through that."

Specifically, courts have declared some state laws unconstitutional, such as certain restrictions on medication abortions and some laws forcing physicians to show women seeking an abortion an ultrasound image of the fetus. However, some challenged restrictions remain in effect, including some imposing new building codes for abortion clinics ("Shots," NPR, 12/30/14).

According to U.S. News & World Report, the Supreme Court might take up a case regarding legislation requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Of the almost a dozen such laws passed by states, more than 50% are currently being contested in the courts, and federal appeals courts have issued split decisions on their constitutionality (U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14).


Supporters, Opponents of Abortion Rights Both Urging Women To Share Abortion Stories

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 19:07

Groups on both sides of the abortion-rights debate are increasingly encouraging women to share their abortion stories and believe that such efforts will help their respective causes, NPR's "Shots" reports.

Supporters, Opponents of Abortion Rights Both Urging Women To Share Abortion Stories

January 5, 2015 — Groups on both sides of the abortion-rights debate are increasingly encouraging women to share their abortion stories and believe that such efforts will help their respective causes, NPR's "Shots" reports.

Supporters of abortion rights say that discussing women's personal experiences with abortion helps reduce stigma surrounding the procedure. For example, the 1 in 3 Campaign last month held a "live-streamed abortion speakout" for women to share their stories, according to "Shots."

Advocates for Youth President Deb Hauser said the need for women to share their abortion stories is especially strong as states enact additional restrictions on the procedure.

Hauser said, "If we are silent, what's left is this void for other people to fill, and [abortion-rights opponents have] filled it with a lot of shame and judgment," adding, "We have to make the political the personal now, and we have to stand up and put women's real-life stories in the middle of this dialogue around abortion care or we're gonna lose."

Meanwhile, opponents of abortion rights are using websites such as Abort73 to promote stories of women who "wish they had not had the abortion," according to Michael Spielman, founder of the site. Abortion-rights opponents hope such stories will build support for the anti-choice position.

Research on Sharing Abortion Stories

People tend to tell their abortion stories to others who they think will support their decision, according to a study by New York University sociologist Sarah Cowan. Thus, a "person who has more lenient attitudes with regards to abortion is more likely to learn that the women they know have had abortions," while their antiabortion-rights peers, even in the same social group, are less likely to hear such stories, Cowan explained.

However, it is unclear whether individuals on average become more supportive of abortion rights after hearing abortion stories, according to "Shots."

Some researchers have argued that individuals would become more supportive, such as has occurred with the issues of same-sex marriage and race relations. Cowan noted that the issue has not been widely researched with regard to abortion but that her data suggest abortion stories could have an effect on people's opinions (Ludden, "Shots," NPR, 12/29/14).


Debates Over 20-Week Abortion Ban Proposals, Other Abortion Restrictions Likely in 2015

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 19:06

Congress, state legislatures and potentially the Supreme Court are expected to take up debates over abortion rights in 2015, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Debates Over 20-Week Abortion Ban Proposals, Other Abortion Restrictions Likely in 2015

January 5, 2015 — Congress, state legislatures and potentially the Supreme Court are expected to take up debates over abortion rights in 2015, according to U.S. News & World Report (Sneed, U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14).

20-Week Ban

Abortion-rights opponents, including the National Right to Life Committee, intend to support legislation that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, based on the disputed notion that a fetus can feel pain at that point of development.

A number of states have passed such bans (Ludden, "Shots," NPR, 12/30/14). However, lawsuits challenging 20-week bans are pending in several states (U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14). Courts have blocked the bans in two states.

According to NRLC State Legislative Director Mary Spaulding Balch, 20-week bans have better chances for passage in 2015 than in previous years in South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin ("Shots," NPR, 12/30/14).

On the federal level, the House and Senate -- both of which will have conservative majorities -- could vote on a 20-week ban in the new Congress. The House passed such a ban (HR 1797) in 2013, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last year promised to hold a vote on a 20-week ban if the GOP gained control of the Senate (U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14).

Other Legislation

Meanwhile, Tennessee lawmakers likely will push for more abortion restrictions in 2015 because of the passage of a ballot measure (Amendment 1) last fall that was seen as giving the state more leeway to enact such bills, according to "Shots" ("Shots," NPR, 12/30/14).

In addition, abortion-rights opponents have said they will push for legislation in more states to prevent abortion providers from dispensing medication abortion drugs via telemedicine, according to U.S. News & World Report. Seventeen states currently have such bans on the books, although some have been blocked by courts.

Opponents of abortion rights also might seek to restrict medication abortion in other ways. The Supreme Court in December declined to consider a lower court's decision blocking an Arizona law (HB 2036) restricting medication abortion, meaning that the law will remain unenforced for now. However, it is not clear whether the high court's move will make abortion-rights opponents any less likely to push for similar restrictions in other states, according to U.S. News & World Report (U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14).

Spaulding Balch said her group will also fight efforts to increase protections for abortion rights in New York and Washington state, where conservatives gained seats in the state legislatures.

Potential for SCOTUS Case

Mixed rulings by appellate courts could increase the chances that the Supreme Court will decide to hear a case regarding abortion restrictions, "Shots" reports.

Speaking about antiabortion-rights laws in general, Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup said, "Fortunately, many of the most extreme laws that have been passed have been found unconstitutional by the courts, and we have been able to block them." She added, "Courts have recognized that these by and large are sham laws that are designed to make it difficult for women to have abortions. They don't serve any medical necessity, and the courts have seen through that."

Specifically, courts have declared some state laws unconstitutional, such as certain restrictions on medication abortions and some laws forcing physicians to show women seeking an abortion an ultrasound image of the fetus. However, some challenged restrictions remain in effect, including some imposing new building codes for abortion clinics ("Shots," NPR, 12/30/14).

According to U.S. News & World Report, the Supreme Court might take up a case regarding legislation requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Of the almost a dozen such laws passed by states, more than 50% are currently being contested in the courts, and federal appeals courts have issued split decisions on their constitutionality (U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14).


Groups Converge To Back Proactive Reproductive Health Agenda

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 16:36

bout 60 women's health organizations have formed a coalition to urge state lawmakers to back policies supporting women's health and reproductive rights, the Latin Post reports.

Groups Converge To Back Proactive Reproductive Health Agenda

January 5, 2015 — About 60 women's health organizations have formed a coalition to urge state lawmakers to back policies supporting women's health and reproductive rights, the Latin Post reports.

Background

Between 2011 and 2013, 30 state legislatures passed 205 laws restricting abortion, according to a Guttmacher Institute study. The number of antiabortion-rights laws passed in those years exceeded the total passed in the previous decade.

The increase in abortion restrictions stemmed in part from the 2010 election, when conservatives gained control of many state legislatures and governorships, according to the Post. In addition, the passage of the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) in March 2010 increased attention to insurance coverage of abortion and sparked new debates over restricting such coverage.

Policy Recommendations

The coalition has outlined its approach in a working paper, "Moving in a New Direction: A Proactive State Policy Resource for Promoting Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice."

To produce the report, the Center for Reproductive Rights looked at evidence-based policies that advance the lives of women and families, according to the Post.

The report is divided into sections, each of which contains expert-supported policies that have been introduced in at least one state. The report also includes case studies about expanding abortion access, empowering young people about sexual and reproductive health decisions, expanding access to contraception, supporting pregnant women's rights, and implementing the ACA.

Comments

"It's not enough to say which policies we oppose -- we need to show people exactly the kind of world we're fighting for," National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health Director of Public Affairs Kimberly Inez McGuire said in a statement.

"After years of relentless attacks on reproductive health care, millions of women across the nation are now left with rapidly disappearing safe and legal options," Center for Reproductive Rights President and CEO Nancy Northup said in a statement, adding that the paper "provides forward-thinking and innovative policies for state officials who want to put the lives and well-being of their constituents first" (Myles, Latin Post, 12/23/14).


Obama Will Not Re-nominate Controversial Judicial Nominee Boggs

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 16:30

President Obama in 2015 will not re-nominate judicial nominee Michael Boggs, who failed to be confirmed after drawing opposition from Democrats for his conservative views, including those on abortion rights, Politico reports.

Obama Will Not Re-nominate Controversial Judicial Nominee Boggs

January 5, 2015 — President Obama in 2015 will not re-nominate judicial nominee Michael Boggs, who failed to be confirmed after drawing opposition from Democrats for his conservative views, including those on abortion rights, Politico reports.

Georgia's two Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, announced the news in a press release on Tuesday, and a White House official confirmed the president's decision on Wednesday. The senators said White House chief of staff Denis McDonough informed them more than a month ago of Obama's decision to not re-nominate Boggs (Everett, Politico, 12/31/14).

Background

Obama nominated Boggs, a Georgia appeals judge and former state legislator, to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

In May, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Boggs sharply about his support for antiabortion-rights legislation during his time as a state legislator from 2000 to 2004. Democrats and progressive groups also raised concern about Boggs' support for displaying the Confederate flag and opposition to same-sex marriage.

In September, Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Boggs did not have enough votes in the committee to advance his nomination. His nomination expired at the end of 2014 (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/23/14).

Boggs was nominated along with six other Georgia judicial nominees whom Obama, Chambliss and Isakson originally agreed to support, but he was the only one not confirmed. The group included nominees favored by both Republicans and Democrats (Bendery, Huffington Post, 12/31/14).

Reaction, Next Steps

Chambliss and Isakson said in a statement, "We regret the President's decision, as we have supported Judge Boggs throughout this process and remain steadfast in our support."

Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), who helped lead the opposition to Boggs' nomination, said, "I'm glad that the President has closed the door on this nomination so we can start the new year looking ahead, not back. There are hundreds of qualified attorneys in Georgia who could serve as a federal judge and I ask that an open and fair process be used to select the next nominees."

Rather than nominating someone for the post as part of a package of judges selected by both parties, Obama will now be able to select a single nominee for the vacancy Boggs would have filled who will be favored by Democrats, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's "Political Insider" (Malloy, "Political Insider," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/31/14).


NYT Op-Ed: Abortion Views Sometimes Don't Fit Stereotypes

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 15:54

While "[t]he perception that men and women have divergent views on abortion has persisted over time," the "polling confounds such stereotypes," Razib Khan writes in a New York Times opinion piece.

NYT Op-Ed: Abortion Views Sometimes Don't Fit Stereotypes

January 5, 2015 — While "[t]he perception that men and women have divergent views on abortion has persisted over time," the "polling confounds such stereotypes," Razib Khan writes in a New York Times opinion piece.

Khan, a doctoral candidate in genomics at the University of California-Davis, writes that the fact that women have been more likely, on average, to vote for Democratic candidates than Republican candidates in recent elections "is often assumed to be [the result of] a difference in attitudes to women's reproductive rights."

However, Khan notes that in 17 of the 23 years that the General Social Survey has asked "the question of whether a woman should be allowed to get an abortion if she 'wants it for any reason' ... men have answered 'yes' to a greater extent than women" and that the average gender gap has been 1.5 percentage points.

Analyses of the survey results show that "sex and age were usually not independently significant" for answers to the question, while factors that were "highly predictive of attitudes toward abortion" included biblical literalism, political ideology and religious attendance.

Further, Khan adds that while "conservative women are the most anti-abortion segment of the population, and liberal women are the most in favor of abortion rights," more than 25% of "extremely liberal" women in the survey answered "no" to the question, while nearly 20% of "extremely conservative" women answered "yes."

Khan acknowledges that while "there is a large gap between these ideologically polarized positions ... we miss a substantial proportion of the electorate if all we apprehend is the stylized cartoon" (Khan, New York Times, 1/2).


L.A. Times: Appeals Court 'Made the Right Decision' in Striking Down N.C. Ultrasound Law

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 15:31

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals "made the right decision ... when it struck down a key provision in a North Carolina law [HB 854] requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds on women seeking abortions and then both show and describe the sonogram images to them," a Los Angeles Times editorial argues.

L.A. Times: Appeals Court 'Made the Right Decision' in Striking Down N.C. Ultrasound Law

January 5, 2015 — The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals "made the right decision ... when it struck down a key provision in a North Carolina law [HB 854] requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds on women seeking abortions and then both show and describe the sonogram images to them," a Los Angeles Times editorial argues.

The Times adds that the provision, which the court found to be "an unconstitutional violation of the free-speech rights of doctors," is one of many state laws nationwide "designed not to protect the health of a woman and her fetus but to discourage her from exercising her constitutionally protected right to abortion."

While "[t]here's nothing wrong with providing pertinent information about risks and benefits of a medical procedure so that a patient can make an informed choice," the North Carolina provision "goes beyond science, requiring a doctor to show his patient the sonogram and describe the fetus in detail -- even if she averts her eyes and refuses to listen," the Times continues.

The editorial adds, "The purpose is not to inform the patient about objective, scientific facts, but merely to persuade her not to have an abortion" (Los Angeles Times, 12/23/14).


NYT Editorial: President Obama Must End 'Misinterpretation' of Helms Amendment

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 15:25

A New York Times editorial applauds President Obama and Congress for recently "easing a 1979 rule that prohibited the Peace Corps from providing any abortion coverage for female volunteers" and urges Obama to "follow up this laudable change" by correcting a "misinterpretation" of the 1973 Helms Amendment, which "restricts the use of foreign aid to pay for abortions overseas, even in countries where abortion is legal."

NYT Editorial: President Obama Must End 'Misinterpretation' of Helms Amendment

January 5, 2015 — A New York Times editorial applauds President Obama and Congress for recently "easing a 1979 rule that prohibited the Peace Corps from providing any abortion coverage for female volunteers" and urges Obama to "follow up this laudable change" by correcting a "misinterpretation" of the 1973 Helms Amendment, which "restricts the use of foreign aid to pay for abortions overseas, even in countries where abortion is legal."

The editorial explains that the amendment has been incorrectly interpreted as a "blanket ban governing the use of American foreign aid" for abortion. In fact, the amendment's wording bars federal money from funding "'abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions,'" which "clearly does not apply to cases of rape, incest or life endangerment," the editorial states. Nonetheless, the amendment "has been treated as if it did by successive administrations, including Mr. Obama's," according to the editorial.

Further, the editorial argues that the misreading of the amendment could constitute a violation of "Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which entitles all victims of armed conflict, including rape victims in war zones, to nondiscriminatory medical treatment."

In addition, the "flawed interpretation ... has even prevented foreign aid recipients from offering information about abortion -- at a public health conference abroad, for instance," the editorial notes (New York Times, 12/28/14).


Irish High Court Rules Physicians May End Mechanical Support for Clinically Dead Pregnant Woman

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 15:19

Physicians in Ireland last week removed mechanical support from a clinically dead pregnant woman after the country's High Court ruled that the fetus had no chance of survival, CNN reports.

Irish High Court Rules Physicians May End Mechanical Support for Clinically Dead Pregnant Woman

January 5, 2015 — Physicians in Ireland last week removed mechanical support from a clinically dead pregnant woman after the country's High Court ruled that the fetus had no chance of survival, CNN reports (Taggart/Capelouto, CNN, 1/2).

Background

The woman lost all brain function after experiencing a blood clot. The woman's family wished to end mechanical support, but physicians would not do so because they believed they were legally required to protect the fetus. The fetus was at 16 weeks of gestation when legal action was first sought; a fetus is not viable outside the womb until about 24 weeks.

Irish medical law requires physicians to grant equal status to the woman and the fetus. Last year, Ireland's Parliament legalized abortion when the procedure is needed to save a woman's life, including when there is a threat of suicide because of the pregnancy. However, the law does not allow abortions in other instances, including rape, incest, fetal anomaly or when there is no prospect of the fetus surviving outside the womb (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/22/14).

High Court Ruling

The court's ruling stated that the case was "tragic and unfortunate" and that medical experts did not present any medical or ethical basis to keep the woman on mechanical support through "a process described as verging on the grotesque" (CNN, 1/2).

Still, the court left open the possibility that future cases could be decided differently if the fetus was closer to viability.

The three-judge panel heard testimony from seven physicians who stated that the fetus could not survive for the additional two months needed until it could be possibly viable. In addition, the physicians said the woman's body was becoming harmful to the fetus because of infections, fungal growths, fever and high blood pressure.

One doctor testified that he and colleagues could not reach a consensus on how to interpret Ireland's constitutional abortion ban because of a lack of specific guidelines for such cases. Doctors also testified that the woman's body was deteriorating and that the treatments being used to sustain bodily functions were not authorized for use in pregnant women and were essentially being used experimentally.

Reaction

Irish Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who supports additional medical exceptions to the abortion ban, said the government would study the case.

Catholic Church leaders questioned why the government has not issued clearer guidelines for cases in which the fetus will not survive. Meanwhile, Ireland's main antiabortion-rights group said that resolving such cases in court "is a sign of a healthy democracy" (AP/Chicago Tribune, 12/26/14).


Federal Judge To Decide Pittsburgh 'Buffer Zone' Case After Parties Fail To Reach Agreement

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 20:09

A U.S. District Court judge will rule on five antiabortion-rights activists' request for an injunction blocking enforcement of a Pittsburgh "buffer zone" ordinance after the city and the activists failed to reach a compromise, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

Federal Judge To Decide Pittsburgh 'Buffer Zone' Case After Parties Fail To Reach Agreement

December 23, 2014 — A U.S. District Court judge will rule on five antiabortion-rights activists' request for an injunction blocking enforcement of a Pittsburgh "buffer zone" ordinance after the city and the activists failed to reach a compromise, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

After hearing oral arguments earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon gave the parties until Dec. 19 to reach an agreement, but attorneys said in filings that day that they remained at odds (Bowling, Pittsburg Tribune-Review, 12/19).

Background

The Pittsburgh buffer zone law is a modified version of a 2005 ordinance that the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down in 2009. In that ruling, the appeals court said the ordinance was illegal because it barred protesters from leafleting and other forms of free speech within a 15-foot zone around any "hospital or health care facility" and also barred protesters from coming within an 8-foot "bubble zone" of women who were within 100 feet of a clinic.

After the ruling, the city decided to drop the bubble zone provision. Further, another federal judge ruled that protesters could distribute leaflets and converse with women on a one-on-one basis as long as they did not "knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate" in the buffer zone (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/5).

Lawsuit Details

The antiabortion-rights activists, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, claim that the law violates a unanimous Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Massachusetts law barring protesters from entering a 35-foot buffer around abortion clinics.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh city attorneys have said the city's ordinance does not raise the First Amendment issues the court noted in the Massachusetts case (Pittsburgh-Tribune Review, 12/19). They have argued that the law is "content neutral" because it applies to all health care facilities in the city. In addition, Assistant City Solicitor Michael Kennedy has contended that tactics such as sidewalk counseling and leafleting amount to "demonstrating" (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/5).

Both sides in their filings last week said they will continue negotiating. In the meantime, they will file final legal arguments to enable Bissoon to rule on the request for an injunction (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 12/19).


Appeals Court: N.C. Coercive Ultrasound Law Unconstitutional

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 20:08

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday unanimously upheld a lower court's ruling that struck down part of a 2011 North Carolina Law (HB 854) requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds on women seeking abortions and describe the images to them, even if they avert their eyes or cover their ears, Reuters reports.

Appeals Court: N.C. Coercive Ultrasound Law Unconstitutional

December 23, 2014 — A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday unanimously upheld a lower court's ruling that struck down part of a 2011 North Carolina Law (HB 854) requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds on women seeking abortions and describe the images to them, even if they avert their eyes or cover their ears, Reuters reports (Jenkins, Reuters, 12/22).

According to bill sponsor state Rep. Ruth Samuelson (R), other provisions of the legislation, including the creation of a website listing information about abortion alternatives, remain in effect (O'Dell, AP/Miami Herald, 12/22).

Background

The requirement that providers display and describe the ultrasound image never took effect after being challenged by a coalition of several groups, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America (Zucchino, Los Angeles Times, 12/22).

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles struck down the provision earlier this year, saying that it violates physicians' free-speech rights because the state does not have "the power to compel a health care provider to speak, in his or her own voice, the state's ideological message in favor of carrying a pregnancy to term."

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) appealed the decision to the 4th Circuit. Cooper said at the time that while he personally "oppose[s] laws like this that force the state into women's medical decisions, the state will appeal this ruling because legitimate constitutional questions remain that should be decided by a higher court" (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/30).

Latest Ruling

Judge Harvie Wilkinson wrote for the 4th Circuit panel that the provision is an unconstitutional violation of physicians' free-speech rights.

Wilkinson wrote, "The state cannot commandeer the doctor-patient relationship to compel a physician to express its preference to the patient" and that "this compelled speech provision" violates the First Amendment (Reuters, 12/22).

He continued, "Transforming the physician into the mouthpiece of the state undermines the trust that is necessary for facilitating healthy doctor-patient relationships and, through them, successful treatment outcomes" (Los Angeles Times, 12/22).

Wilkinson added that the provision "forces physicians to say things they otherwise would not say. Moreover, the statement compelled here is ideological; it conveys a particular opinion. The state freely admits that the purpose ... is to convince women seeking abortions to change their minds or reassess their decisions."

Reaction

The North Carolina Office of the Attorney General on Monday said that it would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, noting that other courts had upheld a similar requirement in Texas. Courts also struck down such a measure in Oklahoma (Somashekhar, "Post Nation," Washington Post, 12/22).

Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards said in a statement, "Today's ruling marks another major victory for women and sends a message to lawmakers across the country: [i]t is unconstitutional for politicians to interfere in a woman's personal medical decisions about abortion" (Reuters, 12/22).

CRR President and CEO Nancy Northup said in a statement, "Exam rooms are no place for propaganda and doctors should never be forced to serve as mouthpieces for politicians who wish to shame and demean women" (Los Angeles Times, 12/22).


Blogs Review Women's Health Battles of 2014, Look Ahead to Next Year

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 18:45

Read the week's best commentaries from bloggers at the National Women's Law Center, "ThinkProgress" and more.

Blogs Review Women's Health Battles of 2014, Look Ahead to Next Year

December 23, 2014 — Read the week's best commentaries from bloggers at the National Women's Law Center, "ThinkProgress" and more.

INSURANCE COVERAGE: "5 Major Changes for Women's Health Coverage in 2014," Stephanie Glover, National Women's Law Center's "Womenstake": Glover notes that 2014, which was "the first year of the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act [PL 111-148]," brought "significant changes for women's access to health coverage." Glover outlines five examples of positive changes: "Access to affordable health insurance," with millions of women signing up for coverage through the ACA's marketplaces and receiving credits to help pay for coverage; the end of the practice known as "gender rating," meaning that insurers "on the individual market" can no longer "discriminate against women by charging them more than men for the same health coverage"; increased Medicaid coverage, with 27 states and Washington, D.C., having implemented expanded Medicaid coverage for low-income individuals under the ACA; "[a]ccess to health services women need," with "[a]ll plans offered on the individual market" now "required to cover essential health benefits including preventive care" and "maternity and newborn care" which many plans often excluded before; and "[p]reventive services without cost-sharing," giving "30 million women" in 2014 access to services like "birth control, well-woman visits, and breastfeeding support and supplies" without out-of-pocket costs. However, Glover adds that "2014 also brought important set-backs for the coverage of women's reproductive health -- most notably the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision" (Glover, "Womenstake," NWLC, 12/22).

ABORTION-RIGHTS MOVEMENT: "Proof That the Women Who Share Their Abortion Stories Can Make a Difference," Tara Culp-Ressler, Center for American Progress' "ThinkProgress": Noting that "some advocates have started calling 2014 'the year of the abortion story,'" Culp-Ressler discusses how sharing abortion stories can "translate into more public support for legal abortion." She writes that "preliminary results" from a political canvassing study "provide some concrete evidence" that abortion-rights opponents are "more likely to shift their view about whether the procedure should be legal" when they "have an in-person conversation with a woman who's chosen to end a pregnancy." Specifically, the preliminary results show that "canvassers were able to increase public support for legal abortion by 10%." Moreover, the researchers noted a "ripple effect" in that those who heard the story "were more likely to tell other members of their households" and that "there's some evidence that the personal abortion stories softened the impact of national news related to abortion" (Culp-Ressler, "ThinkProgress," Center for American Progress, 12/22).

ABORTION RESTRICTIONS: "It's Been a Terrible Year for Reproductive Rights," Amanda Marcotte, RH Reality Check: Marcotte writes that "[t]hings are looking bleak for American women" when it comes to abortion and contraception access, describing "three big court cases that really show how dire things got in 2014." She reviews the Supreme Court's "asinine" reasoning behind its ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, as well the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' rulings to allow enforcement of Texas' hospital admitting privileges requirement for abortion providers (Planned Parenthood v. Abbott) and ambulatory surgical center standards for clinics "even if all the facilities do is provide the abortion pill" (Whole Women's Health v. Lakey), as part of a state law (HB 2). The Supreme Court later issued a stay against enforcement of the ambulatory surgical centers provision. Marcotte adds that looking ahead to 2015, "things do not look like they're getting better," with conservative state lawmakers already filing many bills to restrict reproductive health care, including increased attacks on contraception. She writes, "Those against reproductive rights are losing culturally" and are looking to "regain control legally," adding that "as this year's events show, there's a lot of power in going that route" (Marcotte, RH Reality Check, 12/19).

What others are saying about abortion restrictions:

~ "Sponsor of Missouri's 'Father Knows Best' Bill: "It's Not a Woman's Body with an Abortion. It's a Child's Body," Katie McDonough, Salon.

~ "Federal Court Unanimously Calls North Carolina Anti-Abortion Law a Violation of the First Amendment," Culp-Ressler, Center for American Progress' "ThinkProgress."

PREGNANT WOMEN'S RIGHTS: "Irish Hospital Reportedly Keeping Brain Dead Pregnant Woman Alive," Mary Williams, Salon: Williams writes that Irish officials' decision over "whether or not to honor the wishes of the family of a pregnant, brain dead woman" and end mechanical support is "further evidence that in many parts of the world, a fetus has more protections than an adult woman." Williams explains that under Irish law, the fetus "is considered as much of a citizen as the woman herself" and that the family is considering legal action. The case marks "the second potentially landmark challenge to Ireland's abortion restrictions," Williams notes, writing that a teenage immigrant "who says she was suicidal after a rape that left her pregnant" has filed a legal claim that "she was coerced into undergoing an early caesarian," even though "recent reforms to [Irish] law were supposed to help women at serious risk of medical complications or suicide to obtain [abortions]" (Williams, Salon, 12/19).

What others are saying about pregnant women's rights:

~ "Pregnant Women Aren't Being Arrested To Protect Their Fetuses," Juliana Britto Schwartz, Feministing.


Appeals Court: N.C. Coercive Ultrasound Law Unconstitutional

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 18:45

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday unanimously upheld a lower court's ruling that struck down part of a 2011 North Carolina Law (HB 854) requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds on women seeking abortions and describe the images to them, even if they avert their eyes or cover their ears, Reuters reports.

Appeals Court: N.C. Coercive Ultrasound Law Unconstitutional

December 23, 2014 — A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday unanimously upheld a lower court's ruling that struck down part of a 2011 North Carolina Law (HB 854) requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds on women seeking abortions and describe the images to them, even if they avert their eyes or cover their ears, Reuters reports (Jenkins, Reuters, 12/22).

According to bill sponsor state Rep. Ruth Samuelson (R), other provisions of the legislation, including the creation of a website listing information about abortion alternatives, remain in effect (O'Dell, AP/Miami Herald, 12/22).

Background

The requirement that providers display and describe the ultrasound image never took effect after being challenged by a coalition of several groups, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America (Zucchino, Los Angeles Times, 12/22).

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles struck down the provision earlier this year, saying that it violates physicians' free-speech rights because the state does not have "the power to compel a health care provider to speak, in his or her own voice, the state's ideological message in favor of carrying a pregnancy to term."

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) appealed the decision to the 4th Circuit. Cooper said at the time that while he personally "oppose[s] laws like this that force the state into women's medical decisions, the state will appeal this ruling because legitimate constitutional questions remain that should be decided by a higher court" (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/30).

Latest Ruling

Judge Harvie Wilkinson wrote for the 4th Circuit panel that the provision is an unconstitutional violation of physicians' free-speech rights.

Wilkinson wrote, "The state cannot commandeer the doctor-patient relationship to compel a physician to express its preference to the patient" and that "this compelled speech provision" violates the First Amendment (Reuters, 12/22).

He continued, "Transforming the physician into the mouthpiece of the state undermines the trust that is necessary for facilitating healthy doctor-patient relationships and, through them, successful treatment outcomes" (Los Angeles Times, 12/22).

Wilkinson added that the provision "forces physicians to say things they otherwise would not say. Moreover, the statement compelled here is ideological; it conveys a particular opinion. The state freely admits that the purpose ... is to convince women seeking abortions to change their minds or reassess their decisions."

Reaction

The North Carolina Office of the Attorney General on Monday said that it would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, noting that other courts had upheld a similar requirement in Texas. Courts also struck down such a measure in Oklahoma (Somashekhar, "Post Nation," Washington Post, 12/22).

Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards said in a statement, "Today's ruling marks another major victory for women and sends a message to lawmakers across the country: [i]t is unconstitutional for politicians to interfere in a woman's personal medical decisions about abortion" (Reuters, 12/22).

CRR President and CEO Nancy Northup said in a statement, "Exam rooms are no place for propaganda and doctors should never be forced to serve as mouthpieces for politicians who wish to shame and demean women" (Los Angeles Times, 12/22).


Special Notice: Publishing Break Dec. 24-Jan. 2

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 16:32

The Women's Health Policy Report will not publish from Wednesday, Dec. 24, through Friday, Jan. 2. The report resumes publication on Monday, Jan. 5.

Special Notice: Publishing Break Dec. 24-Jan. 2

December 23, 2014 — The Women's Health Policy Report will not publish from Wednesday, Dec. 24, through Friday, Jan. 2. The report resumes publication on Monday, Jan. 5.