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.
In their 5-4 ruling yesterday, the Supreme Court found that closely-held corporations – like Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties – may seek an exemption under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Although Justice Samuel Alito attempted to curtail the decision to apply only for exemptions to the contraception mandate, this ruling could be construed down the line to allow other closely-held corporations to seek other exemptions under RFRA from further health insurance requirements and civil rights laws. In response to the ruling, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Steve Fox, CEO of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, Executive Director of Women of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Council of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism jointly issued a statement:
“We bemoan the Supreme Court’s decision today, which, in ascribing the same religious free exercise rights to closely-held for-profit corporations that are essential to individuals and religious associations, allows countless numbers of corporations to limit women’s access to reproductive healthcare that those women seek. We also acknowledge the Court making clear that this ruling applies only to the contraception mandate and does not provide for exemptions for coverage of other health care needs or from statutes barring illegal discrimination.”
Yesterday morning – surprising many – the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices came down unanimously in McCullen v. Coakley, a case that questioned the constitutionality of a 35-foot buffer zone around reproductive health care facilities (abortion clinics) in Massachusetts. The justices found that the law in question was not sufficiently narrowly tailored, and was thus in violation of the First Amendment. In writing for the Court, Chief Justice John Roberts was careful to point out that there is an important interest in providing for the safety and well-being for the women and employees trying to access these clinics.
This blog originally appeared at WRJblog.
Last month, WRJ Executive Director Rabbi Marla J. Feldman and RAC Deputy Director Rachel Laser signed onto a letter urging President Obama to reinterpret the Helms Amendment, which bans American foreign aid for abortion services in all circumstances. Alongside a number of other faith leaders, these Reform Movement leaders called on President Obama to instruct the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to interpret the Helms Amendment to allow American foreign aid to be used for abortion services in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment of the mother.
The letter reads, in part:
“When a pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, or when a pregnancy is a threat to the life of a woman, safe abortion can and should be made available and accessible, and U.S. foreign assistance should support such access. Unfortunately, the Helms amendment does just the opposite: it denies millions of women and girls access to safe abortion services. While ultimately we seek elimination of this law, at a minimum the executive branch of the U.S. government should clarify existing law so that in the cases of rape, incest and life endangerment, U.S. foreign assistance is allowed to support abortion access.”
Rachel Laser further explained that, “abortions in the case of rape, incest and where the woman’s life is in danger are not for the purpose of ‘family planning.’ It is also worth noting that every Republican president who enacted the Mexico City policy made exception to the restrictions in cases of rape, incest, and if the woman’s life is in danger. In directing the State Department and USAID to interpret the Helms Amendment, the President would be acting well within the limits of the law. If the Helms Amendment was intended to be a total ban on abortion funding, Congress would have written the language that way, as it has done before.” Read more…
Focusing, as we do, on federal policy, it is heartening that the major anti-choice legislation before Congress right now, The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, S.1670 (a 20-week ban) and The Parental Notification and Intervention Act of 2013, H.R. 3601 (requiring minors to notify and get consent from their parents with few exceptions), are not currently in the forefront of peoples’ minds. That is, it is heartening that these bills are not in the forefront of national discussion. Reproductive rights and attempts to limit them consistently inspire reflection and debate.