"Republicans, what on earth. Why are you recoiling and not giving us a debate on gun violence?!"
Hannah LevintovaJul. 8, 2016 5:03 PM
Two weeks ago, a group of House Democrats led a 26-hour sit-in, after Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) peacefully occupied the House floor to force a vote on two pieces of gun control legislation that the GOP had refused to consider. Congress returned to Washington this week just as three firearms-related tragedies rocked the nation: The police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the fatal shooting of five police officers in Dallas on Thursday night. Friday afternoon, members of the Congressional Black Caucus renewed calls for the GOP to pass gun control legislation.
"We don't need to leave the Hill this week, or any week, without assuring the American people that we understand the problem of police misconduct in America. We understand the murders of innocent black Americans. We get it," said Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), chair of the caucus. "We understand the problems faced by law enforcement officers, most of whom put on the uniform every day and serve and protect our communities. Republicans, what on earth? Why are you recoiling and not giving us a debate on gun violence?"
Other members of Congress reacted earlier in the day with additional calls for peace and a solution on gun control. Rep. John Lewis, another member of the Congressional Black Caucus who marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 to demand voting rights, reacted to Thursday's police deaths in Dallas on Twitter:
We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters. If not, we will perish.
And the New York Post goes with a cover that provokes a fierce backlash.
Hannah LevintovaJul. 8, 2016 12:08 PM
On Thursday night, at least one sniper in Dallas opened fire near a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, killing five police officers and injuring seven others. The shooting marks the deadliest attack on law enforcement in the United States since 9/11. While there has been an outpouring of grief and anger on social media, some high-profile individuals—including a former congressman and a veteran policy adviser to Republican leaders—stirred threats of violence and impending "war" against the Black Lives Matter movement.
From former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh, in a post that has since been deleted:
On his radio show today, right-wing host Rush Limbaugh called Black Lives Matter "a terrorist group committing hate crimes":
The full transcript of Limbaugh's remarks: "I found a story from March, I think, of 2015, in which President Obama welcomed two founders of Black Lives Matter to the White House and commemorated them and their efforts and praised them as being better organizers than he is. And... Black Lives Matter was just exactly who they are then as who they are today. They're a terrorist group. They're quickly becoming a terrorist group committing hate crimes."
The fallout from the historic decision striking down clinic restrictions in Texas has begun.
Hannah LevintovaJun. 30, 2016 5:30 PM
This Columbia, Missouri, clinic closed after the state instituted a hospital admitting-privileges law for abortion providers.
In a press call on Thursday, Planned Parenthood announced a campaign to work toward the repeal of abortion restrictions in eight states across the country, in light of the Supreme Court's historic ruling in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt.
The ruling, announced on Monday, found that two types of abortion clinic restrictions in Texas—a law requiring abortion providers to have local hospital admitting privileges and a rule requiring clinics to meet the strict infrastructure standards of outpatient surgery centers—were unconstitutional because they caused an undue burden on abortion access.
Planned Parenthood announced on Thursday that it was planning to seek repeals of Texas-style restrictions in seven other states: Missouri, Virginia, Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. Planned Parenthood also announced that they would begin work toward repealing abortion restrictions in Texas beyond those struck down this week by the Supreme Court.
Missouri and Tennessee each have both of the Texas-style restrictions on the books: an admitting-privileges law and facility infrastructure requirements. In Missouri, the admitting-privileges law led to the closure of an abortion clinic in Columbia, leaving the state with just one clinic. In Tennessee, both laws are being challenged in the courts. The rest of the states on Planned Parenthood's list each have laws requiring structural standards comparable to those of surgical centers, though the law specifics vary by state.
On the debates around abortion, contraception, and religion, the justices have said their piece.
Hannah LevintovaJun. 29, 2016 6:00 AM
On the heels of its historic decision overturning two Texas abortion restrictions, the Supreme Court closed out its 2015 term on Tuesday with three more victories for pro-choice advocates.
The court denied review in three reproductive health appeals, leaving in place a Washington state mandate requiring pharmacies to stock and dispense contraception, and lower court decisions overturning laws in Wisconsin and Mississippi that would have required doctors who provide abortions to have local hospital admitting privileges, a rule that is often nearly impossible for abortion providers to comply with. Most hospitals require doctors to admit a monthly minimum of patients to maintain their privileges. These numbers are often unattainable for abortion clinic doctors, given that abortion is a safe procedure that rarely leads to hospitalization.
The pharmacists' case, Stormans, Inc. v. Wiesman, presented a potential opportunity for the court to expand state-level religious freedom accommodations for companies that object to contraception. The case was being closely watched after the court punted on Zubik v. Burwell earlier this term, a case in which a group of religious employers objected to the opt-out process for contraceptive coverage set out in Obamacare. The high court sent the Zubik case back down to lower cases for additional review, preserving the contraceptive mandate without addressing the larger questions about the extent of employers' religious freedom rights.
"If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead," Justice Alito wrote, "those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern."
At the center of the pharmacists' case were the Stormans family, which owns Ralph's Thriftway, a grocery store with a small pharmacy, and two individual pharmacists who work elsewhere. The group filed suit against the state of Washington over a new pharmacy board rule, passed in 2007, which required pharmacies to stock and dispense contraception. The new rule, they said, violated their religious beliefs opposing the use of emergency contraceptives, which they believe act as abortifacients. (Scientific consensus is that emergency contraceptives only work before an egg is fertilized, refuting the notion that such pills cause abortions by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg.) The pharmacy board rule prohibits pharmacies from refusing to stock contraceptives due to their religious beliefs, but it does allow objecting pharmacists to ask a colleague to fill the prescription for a patient.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote a fiery dissent in response to the denial of the case, making it clear that he believes this accommodation is insufficient and should have been reviewed by the court. Joined on the dissent by Justices Roberts and Thomas, Alito called the court's denial "an ominous sign" of the future for religious accommodation. "If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead," he wrote, "those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern."
The other two cases denied by the court on Tuesday both centered on admitting-privileges laws; one in Wisconsin, one in Mississippi. It's likely the high court declined to take these cases because these states would be hard-pressed to convince the justices to uphold admitting-privileges laws after a majority of the justices found that the Texas admitting-privileges law was unconstitutional, in the court's historic Monday decision in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt.
Nevertheless, the denials were notable, as they marked a shift in the legal interpretation of abortion regulations in the wake of Whole Woman's Health. The high court declined to hear Schimel vs. Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, et. al. in which Planned Parenthood along with Milwaukee Women's Medical Services, which run the only four abortion clinics in Wisconsin, sued the state in 2013 after it passed a law requiring doctors that provide abortions to have hospital admitting privileges. In 2015, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law as unconstitutional. Today's rejection of Wisconsin's appeal by the Supreme Court means that the 7th Circuit decision stands and the law is permanently struck down.
The high court Tuesday also rejected review of Currier v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. In this case, Jackson Women's Health, the only remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi, challenged the state's admitting-privileges law, which, if enforced, would have left the state without a single abortion clinic.
The effects of the Texas decision have begun to surface across the country: In Alabama, the attorney general announced on Monday evening that the state is ending its legal fight over the state's admitting-privileges law in light of the high court's decision, and Arizona's Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs said she will introduce legislation in the coming session to appeal the state's admitting-privileges law in light of the high court's ruling.
"Yesterday's landmark ruling has already reverberated far beyond Texas, with restrictions blocked so far in Wisconsin, Alabama, Mississippi," said Helene Krasnoff, senior director of public policy litigation and law for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in an emailed statement. "But this is just the tip of the iceberg—advocates will be using the strong standard articulated by the Court to fight for abortion rights state by state and law by law."
The court's Monday ruling "gave advocates a strong way to attack laws that restrict women's access to abortion," says Kathryn Kolbert, the director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard, and the lawyer who in 1992 argued and won Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the abortion case that established the undue burden standard that the Supreme Court used on Monday to strike down Texas' abortion restrictions as unconstitutional. "This decision said, 'You have to look at what's really going on here. If the purpose of a law is to keep women from getting lawful procedures, that is not going to withstand constitutional scrutiny,'" Kolbert says. But she adds, "The history of these kinds of laws is that every time the Supreme Court rules, others keep coming back and trying new ways to restrict women's access to abortion."
The eight justices ruled on Monday in the most important abortion case in decades.
Hannah LevintovaJun. 27, 2016 11:58 AM
This morning, the Supreme Court issued a 5-3 ruling in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, widely considered the most important abortion case to come before the high court in several decades. The ruling, which strikes down several stringent abortion restrictions passed in Texas, is a historic victory for abortion rights advocates. As a result, the 18 abortion clinics currently operating in Texas will be able to stay open, and rules in seven other states that were similar to those that were just reversed in Texas could also be invalidated.
At issue in the case were two requirements of HB 2, an omnibus abortion law passed in Texas in 2013. One mandated that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and the other required abortion clinics to meet the strict infrastructure standards of ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs)—hospital-like facilities usually used for outpatient surgery.
"Both the admitting-privileges and the surgical-center requirements place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and thus violate the Constitution."
"Both the admitting-privileges and the surgical-center requirements place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and thus violate the Constitution," wrote Justice Stephen Breyer in his majority opinion.
The court's reversal of these provisions means that Texas has narrowly avoided a crisis in abortion access. In the wake of HB 2's passage in 2013, more than half of Texas' 41 abortion clinics were forced to close because of the restrictive portions of the law. Had the court upheld the admitting privileges and ASC requirements of HB 2, 8 of the remaining 18 clinics in the state would have been forced to close, leaving just 10 clinics to serve 5.4 million Texas women of reproductive age, and eliminating access to abortion clinics in the 500 miles between El Paso and San Antonio.
This decision also means that the court has helped clear up the legal question of what exactly constitutes an "undue burden" on abortion access for women in states outside the 5th Circuit. The court's 1992 decision inPlanned Parenthood v. Caseyaffirmed states' rights to regulate abortion but set the "undue burden" standard for any rules that might limit a woman's access to abortion care. As state-level abortion restrictions have proliferated in the last five years, courts have disagreed widely on how to interpret this rule. Whole Woman's Health was an opportunity to clarify the definition of "undue burden," and potentially transforms what is permitted and prohibited in state-level abortion restrictions.
What's more, the decision makes clear that the argument that has been made over and over by anti-abortion groups to justify new clinic restrictions across the nation—that they improve women's health—will be much more difficult to make going forward without hard evidence.
Justice Breyer explains several times in his opinion that the court did not buy Texas' argument that the admitting privileges and ASC requirements benefit women's health. "Nationwide, childbirth is 14 times more likely to result in death," he wrote, "but Texas law allows a midwife to oversee childbirth in the patient's own home. Colonoscopy, a procedure that typically takes place outside a hospital (or surgical center) setting, has a mortality rate 10 times higher than an abortion." Breyer adds in a parenthetical that he repeated from the bench, and that Justice Kagan mentioned during oral arguments in March: "The mortality rate for liposuction, another outpatient procedure, is 28 times higher than the mortality rate for abortion."
Of the admitting privileges requirement, Breyer writes bluntly, "We add that, when directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case."
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg piled on in her concurring opinion, writing, "It is beyond rational belief that HB 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law 'would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.'"
Justice Alito wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas. "This is an abuse of our authority," Alito said in a summary of his dissent read from the bench. He gave a passionate speech about his concerns around the breadth of the court's decision, holding up a packet of all the ambulatory surgical center requirements and arguing that the court has now struck down every single one of them, even though some—the need for fire alarms, for example—are "innocuous" rather than burdensome. "The Court strikes down numerous provisions that could not plausibly impose an undue burden," he wrote in his dissent.