Issue Brief: This Month in Reproductive Justice

Credit: Charlotte Cooper/ctrouper on Flickr

Credit: Charlotte Cooper/ctrouper on Flickr

Every Friday, PRA brings you a monthly update on a different social justice issue. This week, we are recapping the last month in Reproductive Justice.

Cities in Maine and Pennsylvania Enact Buffer Zones around Abortion Clinics
In two unanimous rulings, both the cities of Portland , Maine and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania voted to create buffer zones around abortion clinics in an attempt to ensure that patients seeking healthcare would not be deterred by anti-choice protesters. In Portland the 39-foot buffer zone was voted into effect immediately. Zones of this nature, like the Massachusetts zone law, are up for review by the U.S. Supreme Court. While arguably justified based on the history of violence against clinics and harassment of clinic patients, the laws still raise questions about First Amendment rights. Thus far, the courts have ruled in favor of buffer zones protecting patient access to medical services since they do not keep the voices of protesters from being heard nor their signs seen.

Michigan Ballot Initiative Would Require Women to Purchase Separate Insurance for Abortion, Regardless of Circumstances Like Rape
An anti-choice group called Right to Life of Michigan has submitted 315,000 signatures to put a ballot initiative up for review by the Michigan Legislature. The initiative would require women to buy an additional rider on their health insurance, in advance of becoming pregnant, in order to receive coverage in the event of their needing an abortion. Reportedly, the majority of members in the House and Senate put their names to the petition, making it a strong possibility that the measure will pass into law if it comes before the Legislature. Of the four prior legislative ballot initiatives in the state of Michigan, three of them were aimed at restricting access to abortion in open attempts to erode the rights guaranteed by Roe v. Wade. Critics have pointed out that the initiative makes no exceptions for women who become pregnant as a result of rape, so women would have to pay for the additional insurance rider “just in case” they are raped.

Three Women Denied Abortions in Ireland Take Their Cases to the UN
Siobhain Murphy, Ruth Bowie and Amanda Mellet, three Irish women denied abortions in their home country and forced to go abroad to England to have the procedure, have brought their case to the UN. They allege Ireland’s Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act, which makes all abortion illegal except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, constitutes “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” In all three cases the women had been told that the fetuses would not survive past birth and made the decision not to carry the pregnancies to term, at which point they were denied the service under Irish law. It is their intention that fetal impairment be added to the list of circumstances under which an abortion is permitted in Ireland and are working with the Center for Reproductive Rights toward this goal. There is some precedent for the situation in the UN’s KL v. Peru case, where the verdict established that “withholding abortion services in cases of fatal fetal impairments, regardless of legality, constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

Iowa Judge Grants Temporary Stay in Telemedicine Abortion Restrictions
Iowa Judge Karen Romano ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s request to stay a ruling by the Iowa Board of Medicine. The ruling makes it illegal for doctors to prescribe Mifepristone pills to women after video exams—known as “telemedicine”—without establishing an in-person relationship with patients first. Telemedicine is both popular and important in the delivery of healthcare services to rural women who do not have the ability to travel to a clinic which in many cases is hundreds of miles away. Romano did not find the Board’s reason for tighter restriction of the delivery of the abortion pill by this method compelling, noting that it was “peculiar… that the board would mandate this for abortion services and not any other telemedicine practices in Iowa” The judge also pointed out that in the five years the practice has been in effect, there have been zero issues reported.

Senate GOP Introduces Measure to Criminalize Abortions After 20 Weeks
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced a bill that would make abortion procedures illegal after a period of 20 weeks, the point at which anti-choice activists have claimed that a fetus feels pain. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) are co-sponsoring the symbolic bill, which has virtually no chance of passing the Democrat-controlled Senate but represents the Right-Wing dedication to attacking reproductive autonomy by whichever angle they can work. The theory that a fetus feels pain at 20 weeks has been widely circulated and used as justification for multiple state-level bans already, even though it has been discredited .

Albuquerque Voters Come Out Against 20-week Abortion Ban
With record voter turnout, residents of Albuquerque, New Mexico voted 55 percent to 45 percent against a proposal that would have restricted abortions to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. The ballot measure was the first of its kind, being a municipal vote instead of a state-wide or legislative vote, and victory for pro-choice activists against out-of-state anti-choice organizers is heartening. The measure would have been particularly harsh, not even providing exemptions for instances of rape, incest, and fetal anomalies. Albuquerque is one of the last places in the country with clinics providing third-trimester abortions, making it a hot target for anti-choice campaigns. In spite of those increased efforts however, the day went to reproductive freedom.

Senate Democrats Draft Pro-Choice Bill to Halt Nation-Wide Attacks on Abortion Access
In light of the continued state-level legislation making it more financially, physically and emotionally difficult for women to obtain abortions, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is taking the lead on the creation of a bill called the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013. The legislation would require states to prove that any restrictions on women’s reproductive autonomy they enact are medically necessary. While the bill would not deactivate existing state laws, it would provide a framework to challenge state law in federal courts. The bill has little chance of passing the Republican-controlled House, but it marks the first time in a decade that a piece of national legislation has been introduced with the purpose of protecting abortion access.

Supreme Court to hear Hobby Lobby Abortion Coverage Case
The U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear the case of Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores that has been refusing to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s requisite that employer-provided insurance include coverage of some contraceptives. The lawsuit was filed last September. The fight iss over emergency contraception, which the Evangelical proprietors of Hobby Lobby, the Green family, consider to be “an abortion-causing drug” even though this is not the function of EC. Rather than comply, the company has been facing the threat of fines amounting to $1.3 million a day for every day of non-compliance. The issue up for review, as summarized by the Supreme Court, is whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) which states that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion,” extends to for-profit companies denying benefits “to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners.” Can a company “exercise” religion and therefore be entitled to protection? The question is reminiscent of Citizens United case which ruled that corporations also enjoyed free speech protection. The United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit had ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby by that same logic. The ruling could have broad impact outside of even reproductive justice, and could also effect LGBT non-discrimination laws, where some companies argue that their ability to fire a person for being LGBT is protected by their right to exercise their religious beliefs.

New York Magazine Features First Person Abortion Stories
This past month, New York Magazine featured the personal stories of 26 women who had decided to end their pregnancies, framing the story with statistics from the past half-century of the societal split on the issue of abortion. In the spirit of the 1 in 3 campaign, the magazine features a range of women across different states, generations, socio-economic and racial backgrounds. The results of bringing these stories to the public sphere is tangible, with Planned Parenthood reporting that in the results of a survey they commissioned, when people were asked about specific circumstances that a woman could be facing surrounding her decision, they were more likely to oppose a 20-week limit on abortion coverage. The majority of those surveyed responded favorably to allowing women to obtain a legal abortion after 20 weeks.

RH Reality Check Publishes Infographic on the Sources of Anti-Choice Funding
Our friends over at RH Reality Check have published a new article deep-diving into how the Koch Brothers are funding anti-choice activists and legislators. It’s a great read, and includes the following infographic:

(Click the image to visit RH Reality Check)

(Click the image to visit RH Reality Check)