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Reproductive-rights advocates challenge abortion restrictions in three states

Reproductive-rights advocates on Wednesday filed lawsuits challenging abortion restrictions in Missouri, North Carolina and Alaska as unconstitutional, the Washington Post reports (Zezima, Washington Post, 11/30).

The lawsuits were filed on behalf of Planned Parenthood affiliates by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) (CRR press release, 11/30).

Background

According to Reuters, the push follows a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that struck down two provisions in Texas' omnibus antiabortion-rights law (HB 2) (Bernstein, Reuters, 11/30). One provision required abortion clinics in the state to meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers, and the other required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/28).

Julie Rikelman, interim vice president of the U.S. legal program at CRR, said the Texas ruling makes clear that states must consider whether a restriction on abortion benefits health. According to Rikelman, states must "look at real and credible evidence" and not "junk science" (Ludden, "Shots," NPR, 11/30).

Details of lawsuits

The three lawsuits contend that the restrictions at issue are medically unnecessary (Reuters, 11/30).

The Missouri lawsuit challenges ambulatory surgical center building requirements and admitting privileges rules similar to those struck down in the Texas case, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports. According to the AP/Bee, the restrictionshave left only one abortion clinic in operation in the state. Planned Parenthood officials noted that some women seeking abortion care in the state have to travel more than 300 miles to reach the St. Louis clinic.

The North Carolina lawsuit challenges a 20-week abortion ban. Under the law, a woman may only receive abortion care after the 20th week if she is experiencing a medical emergency. According to the ACLU, the ban forces providers to delay treating a woman with a high-risk pregnancy until she is in immediate danger of death or severe injury.

The Alaska lawsuit challenges a law that effectively bans abortion care in outpatient facilities after the first trimester of pregnancy, the AP/Bee reports. The lawyers in the case say the requirement forces women to travel out-of-state for care. Planned Parenthood said it has to refer about 30 Alaska residents out of state for abortion care each year (Crary et al., AP/Sacramento Bee, 11/30).

Comments

The advocacy groups said in addition to expanding on the Supreme Court's ruling, the lawsuits marked a preemptive response to the antiabortion-rights stance put forth by President-elect Donald Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and other members of the new administration (Reuters, 11/30). However, the advocates also said they were challenging the laws because women in large swathes of the country already had limited access to abortion care.

Carrie Flaxman, an attorney with Planned Parenthood, said, "People are forced to travel hundreds of miles, cross state lines, miss work, lose wages and jeopardize their health and safety to obtain an abortion" ("Shots," NPR, 11/30).

Rikleman added, "Now more than ever, we face a serious threat to women's reproductive rights, but the reality is abortion access is already deeply restricted for many women in this country" (Washington Post, 11/30). She acknowledged concerns about challenging abortion laws given Trump's pledge to appoint abortion-rights opponents to the Supreme Court, but she said that while the right to abortion care "is now at a greater risk that it was before," that right "has stood the test of time and been approved by a variety of justices appointed by a variety of administrations" ("Shots," NPR, 11/30).

Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU's reproductive freedom project, said, "States across the country have quietly enacted laws that restrict a women's right to have an abortion." She added, "The reality is in many places across our country today, a woman cannot get an abortion if she needs one" (Washington Post, 11/30). According to Dalven, ACLU and other advocacy groups are going to "use all the tools at our disposal -- and that includes the courts -- to ensure that folks' constitutional rights are protected" (Reuters, 11/30).

Separately, Raegan McDonald-Mosley, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood, said, "We are going to fight back state by state and law by law until every person has the right to pursue the life they want, including the right to decide to end a pregnancy" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 11/30).