NYT: The Courts Stand Up for Access to Reproductive Health Care

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NYT: The Courts Stand Up for Access to Reproductive Health Care

Jodi Jacobson

In an editorial today, the New York Times discusses the vital role the courts have played in recent weeks in blocking viciously regressive laws seeking to deny women access to both self-determination and to basic reproductive health care.

A New York Times editorial today underscored the critical role the courts have played to date in blocking at least three of the state laws that most heavily restrict women’s rights to self-determination and access to reproductive health care.

“In three new rulings,” notes the editorial, “federal judges in different states have acted to block immediate enforcement of measures that restrict abortion rights and women’s access to affordable contraception, lifesaving cancer screenings and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. These rulings are important victories for women’s health and reproductive rights.”

As noted by the Times, the decisions included:

  • A preliminary injunction put in place on June 24th by Judge Tanya Pratt of the Federal District Court in Indianapolis.  The injunction blocks enforcement of the new Indiana law banning the use of Medicaid funds at Planned Parenthood clinics, which provide essential health services to low-income women.
  • The preliminary injunction blocking, on constitutional grounds, the South Dakota abortion law that the NYT wrote is “a deeply intrusive state law requiring women to wait at least 72 hours after an initial doctor’s visit before terminating a pregnancy — the longest waiting period in the nation.”  In that decision, federal Judge Karen Schreier wrote: “Forcing a woman to divulge to a stranger at a pregnancy help center the fact that she has chosen to undergo an abortion humiliates and degrades her as a human being,” prompting millions of women across the country to say “you got that right.”
  • An injunction granted on July 1 by Judge Carlos Murguia, blocking immediate enforcement of a new Kansas licensing law and health department regulations imposing extensive, medically unnecessary requirements on the state’s three remaining abortion providers — like mandating 50 square feet of storage space for janitorial supplies — with the obvious goal of shutting them down.

“While these rulings are preliminary,” states the editorial, “each is a determination that enforcing the law would cause irreparable harm and that the plaintiffs are likely to prevail at trial.”

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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These decisions obviously underscore, as the editorial notes, that the courts have a vital role to play in blocking efforts by the extreme and misogynistic anti-choice, anti-health movement.  Whether and how long women’s rights will be protected by the courts is, however, still in question.  Just this week, for example, a federal judge in New York blocked implemenation of a New York City law requiring so-called crisis pregnancy centers to be transparent about the services they do and do not offer.  A large number of ultra-conservative judges are now seated, many of whom share the theocratic, political, and anti-woman views of the anti-choice movement and of the current ultra-right GOP and Tea Parties.  Moreover, the Supreme Court itself has shown little respect for precedent and little respect for women’s most basic freedoms.

Moreover, as the Times also notes, the most recent court decisions do not address other threats to women’s health, including the devastating cuts being made to health care for people living in poverty and for marginalized populations in states like New Jersey, budget cuts that are being justified under the misleading premise that “we can’t afford this.”  In fact, its a smokescreen: what we can’t afford is to continue defunding health care, housing, transportation, nutrition, education and other core social programs while refusing a rational approach to raising more money by asking the wealthiest people in the nation to chip in their fair share.

Nonetheless, I agree with the Times, that these rulings are critical, and are a major step toward protecting women’s freedom, at least in these cases.