USA – Abortion news, 10 December 2019

On 9 December 2019, the US Supreme Court left in place a Kentucky restriction requiring doctors to show and describe ultrasound images to women seeking an abortion, even if the patient objects and shows signs of distress, turning away a challenge arguing that the measure violates the free speech rights of physicians. The justices declined without comment to hear an appeal by the American Civil Liberties Union of a lower court ruling that upheld the law after a federal judge previously had struck it down as a violation of the US Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of free speech.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera, 9 December 2019 ; PHOTO: by Chris Kenning/Reuters. Escorts who ensure women can reach the clinic line up as they face off protesters outside the EMW Women’s Surgical Center, Louisville, Kentucky

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The law and ethics of fetal burial requirements for reproductive health care

JAMA, by Dov Fox, I Glenn Cohen, Eli Y Adashi, Journal of the American Medical Association, 8 October 2019;322(14):1347-48 (Not open access)

Abstract

This Viewpoint discusses the 2019 Box v Planned Parenthood US Supreme Court ruling that upheld an Indiana provision mandating that abortion facilities bury or cremate fetal remains, characterizing the law as a “targeted restriction” law intended to place undue burden on abortion providers and patients and incrementally reduce access to abortion and related reproductive health services.

Excerpts

On May 28, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States decided the constitutionality of a far-reaching new abortion law. The 7 to 2 ruling in Box v Planned Parenthood upheld an Indiana provision that mandates any clinician or facility providing abortion to bury or cremate fetal remains, no different from the requirements for cadavers. The Court declined to review a separate provision that bars any abortion that is sought on the basis of sex, race, or genetic disability. This Viewpoint examines the practical implications of the Court’s decision for physicians and their patients…

Indiana is one of eight states that has passed laws requiring that fetal remains be interred or cremated, rather than disposed of as medical material under the rules set forth by the state’s environment and health departments. That mandate is an example of what abortion rights advocates call a targeted restriction on abortion providers (TRAP law). These are laws that appear to impose neutral requirements on medical professionals who perform abortion…

Proponents of the law argued that it expresses respect for unborn life by mandating dignified funeral rites for fetal remains. Opponents countered that the requirement unduly burdens women seeking abortion, not least by making it much costlier for facilities to perform the procedure – prohibitively more expensive for those clinics that have already been forced to shut down because of the additional expenses and administrative burdens that the law imposes. Independent economists estimate that fetal cremations cost approximately $500 each and more than twice that amount per burial…

Beyond the burdens that fetal disposition laws place on clinicians and women seeking abortion, these laws bear clinical and cultural consequences by implying that aborted fetuses should be treated no differently than born persons who are buried or cremated after they die…

In defending the Indiana provision, lawmakers argued that the moral mandate “expands on long-established legal and cultural traditions of recognizing the dignity and humanity of the fetus.” For most women, the decision to have an abortion is a deeply personal and difficult one. Laws like Indiana’s are not just about the status of unborn life and whether medical clinics, individual physicians, and female patients are forced to treat fetal remains more like children who have died than as medical tissue. The Supreme Court’s decision in Box v Planned Parenthood is really about the future of abortion access. Will it remain what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg affirmed as a “constitutionally protected right,” or will it be demoted to what Justice Clarence Thomas called a “supposed” right that will be no longer?…