Following an emergency application from reproductive health care providers, the Supreme Court has blocked two key parts of the restrictive Texas law that, since 2012, has forced 32 of the state’s 40 clinics to close their doors to women in need of health care services. In a 6-3 order issued yesterday, the justices blocked provisions of House Bill 2 that mandate clinics to meet strict the building standards of an ambulatory surgical center and that require providing physicians to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Though proponents of the bill insist these provisions enforce a higher standard for protecting women’s health, they are both unnecessary for ensuring healthy procedures and unjustified in the burden they place on Texas women. Read more…
If you’re a Supreme Court fanatic like I am, you’ve been eagerly awaiting the start of this year’s term for months (well, since early July). It’s finally here. I’m excited to begin following the justices again, although I’m a bit nervous for possible case outcomes this year given the Court’s recent decisions. Even if you haven’t been counting down the days, you should consider keeping up with the Court this year exactly because its recent decisions and upcoming cases are so critical. As we saw in cases like Citizens United and Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the Court can shape law and spark national debate in a profound way. The cases the Court will hear this year promise to do the same:
Ebola is not the only important health-related news from Texas this week. Thursday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that all but seven facilities that provide abortion services must close immediately, leaving 900,000 women more than 150 miles from the nearest clinic. The Circuit Court overturned a lower court ruling that sought to strike down the provision requiring all reproductive health care facilities to abide by the building requirements of an ambulatory surgical center (ASC), a category of facilities that provide vastly different services than reproductive health clinics. Now clinics must either stop providing abortion services or undergo significant renovations, the later proving effectively impossible due to cost. The Fifth Circuit’s decision remains final unless advocates appeal to the Supreme Court.
In yesterday’s decision, Judge Jennifer Elrod opined, “In our circuit, we do not balance the wisdom or effectiveness of a law against the burdens the law imposes,” an assertion that blatantly contradicts the established undue burden standard for reviewing abortion rights cases. Even Texas, with its severely restrictive reproductive rights laws, recognizes in some form the importance of the undue burden standard; state law that requires a woman to see a providing physician at least 24 hours before an abortion procedure exempts women who live more than 100 miles from their nearest clinic, acknowledging that traveling that distance twice or making an overnight stay near the clinic imposes an undue burden on a woman’s right to access reproductive health care. It is deeply unsettling, then, to see that Texas does not recognize that the ASC provision imposes an undue burden on 900,000 of its residents, and that the Fifth Circuit Court has upheld that burden.
As Reform Jews, we believe firmly in not only a woman’s right to choose, but also the need to ensure that abortions are safe, legal, affordable and accessible for all women. Our tradition teaches that all life is sacred, but that the life and health of the mother are the principle concerns; a law that leaves open seven clinics in a state with 5.4 million women of reproductive age demonstrates a clear disregard for women’s health and well-being.
On Sunday, September 28 we commemorated the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, encouraging individuals, organizations and governments to take steps to ensure women’s health care access around the world.
Despite seemingly constant attacks on women’s reproductive rights in the United States, the alarming reality is that our laws allow safe and legal access compared to those of other countries around the world. In 138 countries, restrictions on abortion extend beyond the methods by which a woman may fund her procedure, with governments regulating the reasons for which a woman is or is not allowed to terminate her pregnancy. In its annual survey of abortion restrictions across the globe, the Center for Reproductive Rights categorizes these restrictions in three ways: Read more…
More than a year after Wendy Davis took to the floor of the Texas State Senate for her famous filibuster in defense of abortion rights, the debate in Texas over a woman’s right to access abortion care is still not settled. On Friday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments over whether to uphold a district court ruling to strike down a provision of the infamous Texas bill that would require all clinics to become licensed as surgical centers or to close their doors to women seeking care. Representing a federal district court in Austin, Judge Lee Yeakel, who sought to strike down another of the bill’s provisions last fall, ruled the restrictions pose an undue, and thus, an unconstitutional burden on a woman’s right to choose. Read more…
On June 12, the governor of Louisiana signed a bill that will close three of the state’s five abortion facilities. Several days later, the only medical provider offering abortion care in northern Alabama shut down. And by September, Texas is expected to have only six abortion clinics. In 2011, that number was 44. Within certain regions of the United States, access to abortion is rapidly vanishing due to legislation known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. These TRAP laws attempt to impose burdensome restrictions on abortion providers and limit various services within a state’s borders.
Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby almost three weeks ago, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO) and Representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced the “Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act” (S. 2578/H.R. 5051).
This bill was crafted in the aftermath of Hobby Lobby to ensure that all people will continue to access all kinds of medical needs and services whether their employer might have a religious objection or not. Additionally, it maintains the contraception mandate’s accommodation and exemption for religious non-profits and for houses of worship.
Recent headlines about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) have been reminiscent of those from nearly seven years ago, when ENDA passed the House of Representatives. In the 110th Congress, then-Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the first trans-inclusive version of ENDA. However, after a preliminary vote proved the bill had no chance of passing, Rep. Frank stripped ENDA of its gender identity language and introduced a sexual orientation-only version of the bill, which passed the House of Representatives in November 2007.
This controversial decision divided the LGBT rights advocacy community. Some organizations withdrew support for the legislation, feeling that the exclusion of the transgender community significantly diminished the efficacy of the bill. Others, including the RAC, the Humans Rights Campaign, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, felt that piecemeal protection was better than no protection at all. We remained vocal, however, about our belief that protection only on the basis of sexual orientation was not enough. Judaism teaches love of humanity and respect for the divinity in all people. Guided by those ideals, the Reform Jewish Movement continues to maintain ardent support for legislation that advances civil and human rights.
Yet again, the LGBT rights advocacy community is split in the fight for ENDA. On July 8, a few prominent LGBT and civil rights organizations, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the ACLU, formally dropped their support for the bill in light of the recent Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case.
The court decided in the case that Hobby Lobby and other closely-held, secular for-profit corporations do not have to cover for their employees the contraceptive care to which they object on religious grounds. The LGBT advocacy organizations that have withdrawn their support of ENDA are concerned that this ruling could affect the interpretation of ENDA’s current religious exemption.
Regardless of the implications posed by the Hobby Lobby case, there is no denying that an inclusive, federal workplace non-discrimination law is long overdue. Since ENDA was introduced more than a year and a half ago, the RAC and its allies in the LGBT rights community have tirelessly fought for this essential piece of legislation, pushing passage in the Senate and securing a record number of bipartisan co-sponsors in the House. We cannot ignore the urgent need for a law, backed by bipartisan support, that would advance the rights of the LGBT community and ensure that tens of millions of LGBT people are protected in the workplace.