USA – Law and Policy – Multiple Stories

How abortion’s legal landscape post-Roe is causing fear and confusion

We spoke with seven reproductive rights organizations — here’s what we found.

For years before the Supreme Court upended Roe v. Wade, the landmark precedent protecting abortion access, a network of conservative Christians was slowly and methodically stacking the courts through political means. “[W]hat Trump and his Republican allies had done was to change the country by leveraging political force to conquer the courts,” Elizabeth Dias and Lisa Lerer wrote in their recent recounting of the network’s maneuvering for The New York Times Magazine.“

Their policy arms churned out legal arguments and medical studies. Their lawyers argued their cases, and their judges ruled on them,” Dias and Lerer explained.

This strategy helps to decode the ever-changing post-Roe legal landscape. With Roe out of the way, and with many courts stacked in their favor, conservative state legislatures have continued to pass increasingly restrictive and punitive abortion laws. At least 14 states have banned abortion with limited exceptions since the end of Roe 2022. Another seven states have banned the procedure before 18 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that advocates for reproductive rights, including abortion.

Nearly two years later, the legality of abortion in the United States is still being debated in court. A total of 40 cases have challenged abortion bans in 23 states as of January, according to the think tank Brennan Center for Justice.

Many of the recent state laws take aim at people helping someone seeking an abortion or those looking to leave a state where abortion is illegal. Several states have focused on aid to minors. Take, for example, a soon-to-be-enacted law in Tennessee that would punish adults for taking minors across state lines to end a pregnancy. A law in Idaho that did the same has been temporarily put on hold by a federal court. These laws are copycats of Texas’ S.B. 8, which allows anyone to sue people aiding or abetting an abortion.

In her ruling blocking the Idaho law from taking effect, U.S. District Magistrate Debora K. Grasham wrote that the case was about much more than abortion. “Namely, long-standing and well recognized fundamental rights of freedom of speech, expression, due process, and parental rights,” she wrote. “These are not competing rights, nor are they at odds.”

Last year, the Department of Justice sought to clarify the constitutionality of the travel bans. “The right to travel from one state to another is firmly embedded in the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence and the Constitution,” the Department noted.

Even before the Roe v. Wade decision, labor and delivery wards in rural hospitals were shutting down, citing costs and financial uncertainty. By 2020, half of rural community hospitals had stopped providing obstetrics care, according to the American Hospital Association. Yet about 60 million, or 1 in 5, Americans live in rural areas.

Adding to the strain, rural hospitals are also experiencing a “brain drain”. Some doctors, wary of restrictive abortion laws, are leaving in droves. That has created maternity care deserts — where access to reproductive health care, including abortions, is nearly impossible. Women in these regions often have to travel hundreds of miles to find care, if they can afford to do so at all….

Now, the fight has grown bigger as the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood challenge more Ohio laws, including those that prevent certain health care professionals, like nurse practitioners, from providing abortion pills….

The sheer scale of confusion has required new legal tactics. To address the need for new kinds of information, non-profit legal organizations have banded together to form coalitions. One such example is the Abortion Defense Network, launched last year that includes the Lawyering Project, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Women’s Law Center. A number of very well respected nationwide law firms are involved too, to provide legal help, assistance and support…

SOURCE: The Marshall Project, by Nicole Lewis and Aala Abdullahi, 1 June 2024.


Brief of amici curiae economists in support of respondents in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

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A pillar of Mississippi’s argument in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health was that there is no evidence of “societal reliance” on abortion, meaning no reason to believe that access to abortion impacts the ability of women to participate in the economic and social life of the nation. Led by economist Caitlin Myers and attorney Anjali Srinivasan, more than 150 economists filed an amicus brief seeking to assist the Court in understanding that this assertion is erroneous. The economists describe developments in causal inference methodologies over the last three decades, and the ways in which these tools have been used to isolate the measure of the effects of abortion legalization in the 1970s and of abortion policies and access over the ensuing decades. The economists argue that there is a substantial body of well-developed and credible research which shows that abortion access has had and continues to have a significant effect on birth rates as well as broad downstream social and economic effects, including on women’s educational attainment and job opportunities.

SOURCE: Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, by Caitlin Myers, Anjali Srinivasan 14 May 2024


U.S. Justice Department files statement of interest in case on right to travel to access legal abortions

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The U.S. Justice Department filed a statement of interest on 23 November 2023 in two consolidated lawsuits seeking to protect the right to interstate travel, including the right to travel to another U.S. state to obtain an abortion that is legal in the destination state. The statement of interest explains that the Constitution protects the right to travel across state lines and engage in conduct that is lawful where it is performed and that states cannot prevent third parties from assisting others in exercising that right.

“As I said the day Dobbs was decided, bedrock constitutional principles dictate that women who reside in states that have banned access to comprehensive reproductive care must remain free to seek that care in states where it is legal,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “This filing demonstrates the Justice Department’s commitment to defending the constitutional right to travel and to protecting reproductive freedom under federal law.”

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs overturning Roe v. Wade, the Justice Department has worked with commitment and urgency to defend the reproductive freedoms that are protected by federal law. The Reproductive Rights Task Force, led by Associate Attorney General Gupta, consists of senior officials and dedicated staff from across a dozen Department components who are working daily to address complex and widespread threats to reproductive health in the wake of Dobbs. Since the Task Force was formed, one of its core responsibilities has been to assess state and local legislation and enforcement actions that threaten to impair women’s right to seek reproductive care in states where it is legal and to coordinate appropriate federal government responses to those actions, including proactive and defensive legal action where appropriate. Additional information on the work of the Task Force can be found at

SOURCE: Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of Justice. Press release, 9 November 2023


North Carolina abortion pill restrictions struck down by federal judge

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Restrictions that required doctors to dispense abortion pills in-person overstep the federal government’s authority, U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles has ruled in response to parts of North Carolina’s law on medical abortions. Under the ruling, any health care provider — not just physicians — and pharmacists who are certified can prescribe abortion pills, patients can take mifepristone at home and they no longer have to make three-in person visits to a doctor.

“Yesterday’s ruling from the court is a tremendous victory for thousands of patients statewide, particularly in rural areas, who have been deprived of full access to medication abortion because of the state legislature’s oppressive tactics and maniacal focus on restricting abortion,” Jenny Black, head of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said in a statement.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein, who is running for governor, lauded the ruling, saying: “Republican lawmakers enacted SB20 to control women. Their sloppy, chaotic law violated women’s constitutional rights and made it harder to get a safe, effective medication abortion. I fought back against the unconstitutional parts of the law that made it harder for women – especially in rural parts of the state – to get the health care they need. I’m proud to defend women’s reproductive freedoms and pleased that this ruling helps women regain some control over their personal health care decisions. Politicians need to stay out of the exam room and leave these decisions to a woman and her medical provider.”

However, the judge said other requirements — in-person advance consultation and exam, ultrasound and blood testing — can remain because they help advance standards of care. Also yet to come are rulings on “mandates that require abortions after 12 weeks to be performed in hospitals and make physicians “document the existence of an intrauterine pregnancy”.

SOURCE: NC Newsline, by Elisha Brown, 4 June 2024. PHOTO: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images