WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday left in place policies in Chicago and Pennsylvania’s capital Harrisburg that place limits on anti-abortion activists gathered outside abortion clinics.
The justices declined to hear two appeals by anti-abortion groups and individual activists of lower court rulings upholding the cities’ ordinances.
The Chicago policy bars activists from coming within eight feet (2.4 meters) of someone within 50 feet (15 meters) of any healthcare facility without their consent if they intend to protest, offer counseling or hand out leaflets. The Harrisburg measure bars people from congregating or demonstrating within 20 feet (6 meters) of a healthcare facility’s entrance or exit.
Both cases pitted the free speech rights of anti-abortion protesters against public safety concerns raised by women’s healthcare providers regarding demonstrations outside clinics. There is a history of violent acts committed against abortion providers.
At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the ordinances violate free speech rights protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld the Chicago ordinance, which was introduced in 2009. The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Harrisburg in 2019. That measure was enacted in response to disruptions by protesters outside two abortion clinics in the city.
The cases did not directly implicate abortion rights. In a major ruling on Monday, the struck down a Louisiana law placing restrictions on doctors that perform abortions.
Also on Thursday, the court directed a lower court to reconsider the legality of two Indiana abortion restrictions – one that would require women to undergo an ultrasound procedure at least 18 hours before terminating a pregnancy and another that would expand parental notification when a minor seeks an abortion. The lower court had struck down both measures.
Abortion remains a divisive issue in the United States. The Supreme Court in its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalized abortion nationwide, finding that women have a constitutional right to the procedure. In recent years, numerous Republican-governed states have sought to impose a series of restrictions on abortion.
U.S. Supreme Court Reverses Restrictive Louisiana Abortion Law
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday defended abortion rights by striking down a Louisiana law placing restrictions on doctors who perform the procedure, dealing a blow to anti-abortion advocates.
The 5-4 ruling, with conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joining the four liberals justices in the majority, represented a major victory for Shreveport-based abortion provider Hope Medical Group for Women in its challenge to the 2014 law. The measure had required doctors who perform abortions to have a sometimes difficult-to-obtain formal affiliation called “admitting privileges” at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of the clinic.
Anti-abortion advocates had hoped that the Supreme Court, with its 5-4 conservative majority, would be willing to permit abortion restrictions like those being pursued by Louisiana and other conservative states.
The decision, authored by liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, marked the second time in four years that the court ruled against an “admitting privileges” requirement.
In 2016, the court struck down a Republican-backed Texas law that mandated admitting privileges and required clinics to have costly hospital-grade facilities, finding that the restrictions represented an impermissible “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.
Several other cases involving legal challenges to abortion restrictions in other states are heading toward the justices that could provide other avenues for its conservative majority to roll back access to the procedure.
Two of Louisiana’s three clinics that perform abortions would have been forced to close if the law went into effect, according to lawyers for Hope Medical Group.
Read the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling here or below.
Tennessee Legislature Passes Late-Night Six-Week Abortion Ban
(The Guardian) — Republicans in Tennessee have voted to ban abortion as early as six weeks after conception, in a surprise midnight vote held in the middle of a pandemic, without members of the public present.
The ban beginning at six weeks, which is before most women know they are pregnant, is blatantly unconstitutional and will almost certainly be blocked in the courts before it goes into force. Reproductive rights advocates were swift to promise a challenge.
The bill was not listed on the state legislature’s calendar and the vote took place in Nashville in a state capitol closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The rate of new coronavirus cases in some Tennessee counties has risen, although the state’s weekly trend has plateaued.
Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and chief executive of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said: “It is a disgrace that in the face of a true public health crisis, Tennessee politicians wasted their time with this last-minute move to attack abortion access before closing up shop this session.”
According to a local reporter, the only protesters present during debate were three women in masks who “snuck” into the public gallery. Placed in handcuffs by all-male capitol police, they yelled “Banning abortion in Tennessee does not save lives!” and “Pro-life is a lie, we don’t care if women die!”
The bill is almost certain to pass into law, as it was proposed by the state’s governor. It comes just days before the US supreme court is expected to issue an opinion in the most highly anticipated abortion rights case in decades.
Abortion is legal in all 50 US states, despite a recent spate of bans. The procedure was legalized to the point a fetus can survive outside the womb by the US supreme court in 1973, in the landmark case Roe v Wade.
The upcoming ruling is expected to indicate the nine-member court’s appetite for restricting abortion. The panel has a 5-4 conservative majority, thanks to the confirmation of two justices nominated by Donald Trump. Notably, all the conservatives are men.
During debate in Tennessee, Gloria Johnson, a Democrat from Knoxville, said: “I feel like there was a bargain made on my reproductive health rights in order to get the budget passed.”
The headline restriction of the new bill is a “heartbeat” provision, which bans abortion after fetal cardiac activity can be detected, which is typically between six and eight weeks after conception. At that stage, a pregnancy is still classed as an embryo. The chambers of the heart and the circulatory system are not yet formed.
The bill also requires abortion clinics to post a sign and provide information telling patients medication abortions may be reversible – although there is no medical evidence to support the claim – under penalty of a $10,000 fine.
It bans abortion outright for juvenile women in state foster care and bans abortion if sought because of a Down’s Syndrome diagnosis, or because of gender or race. There are no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.
The bill also requires doctors to perform an ultrasound and forces women to view images of the fetus and to listen to cardiac activity and a description of its limbs and organs. Those requirements are likely to drive up the cost of abortions, which are primarily obtained by young and poor women.
The ban is also sequential, according to the Tennessean. If a court strikes down a provision banning abortion at six weeks, a ban will automatically be instituted at 10 weeks, then 12, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 weeks. A full-term pregnancy is 39 weeks after a woman’s last period. A fetus can live outside the woman at 24 weeks, although it is more likely to suffer severe disabilities. Abortions late in pregnancy are extremely rare.
“Hopefully we can protect more lives, we can save more babies,” said Republican state representative Susan Lynn, according to local news station WJHL.
Despite the pandemic, Tennessee Republicans have refused to pass a bill to expand health insurance to 280,000 low-income residents who have no access to the healthcare system. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 666,000 Tennesseans lack insurance, including more than 77,000 children.
Read an early draft of the bill that just passed the Tennessee State Legislature and will likely be challenged in federal court here.
Federal Judge Issues Restraining Order Preventing Kentucky From Implementing Heartbeat Law
A federal judge on Wednesday has issued a temporary restraining order that blocks a Kentucky law that banned abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which typically happens around six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.
The measure, which was signed into law on Friday by the state’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, and was set to take effect immediately, was poised to become one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country.
But late on Wednesday, the judge, David J. Hale of the Western District of Kentucky, ruled the law was potentially unconstitutional. He halted enforcement under the Temporary Restraining Order for at least 14 days to “prevent irreparable harm” until he could hold a hearing.
The temporary restraining order is in effect since 5:00 PM CT, and will be in effect until 5:00 PM CT on Wednesday, April 3rd.