The Abortion Docket
Groups on both sides are coordinating their Supreme Court strategies.
In the past two years, anti-abortion groups have seeded state laws with abortion restrictions. Challengers to court rulings for and against those laws now are knocking on the doors of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The justices on Nov. 4 dismissed Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, Oklahoma's attempt to resurrect its limits on medical abortions. However, litigators on opposite sides of the abortion controversy agree the Cline case is unlikely to be the last time the high court confronts that issue.
On the same day as the dismissal of Oklahoma's petition, an emergency application was filed with Justice Antonin Scalia in Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas v. Abbott, a case challenging that state's law requiring abortion clinic physicians to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.
As early as this week, the high court may say whether it will hear another Oklahoma abortion case, Pruitt v. Nova Health Systems, the state's defense of the Oklahoma Ultrasound Act, which also was struck down by that state's highest court.
Before the year ends, the justices may take their first look at Horne v. Isaacson, a petition by Arizona challenging the invalidation of its law banning abortions after 20 weeks.
And, although cast as a religion issue, lawsuits by for-profit business owners objecting to health insurance coverage of contraception are seen as another front in the abortion wars. The justices have three petitions on that issue and are highly likely to take one this term.
Litigation at the Supreme Court and in the lower state and federal courts "seems to be picking up," said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project. And that is demanding a high level of coordination of legal resources on both sides.
Three issues dominate most of the litigation: requirements for hospital admitting privileges, 20-week abortion bans and medication abortions. And two of the three — admitting privileges and 20-week bans — are alive at the Supreme Court.
The three main defenders of abortion rights are the ACLU, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Center for Reproductive Rights. Most recently lawyers from all three organizations formed a team to challenge Texas' recent anti-abortion law in a suit that moved from federal trial to appeal to emergency application in the Supreme Court in just one month.
Besides its admitting-privilege requirement, the Texas law limits medical abortions and bans abortions after 20 weeks. A federal district judge blocked the admitting-privileges requirement, finding it did not improve patient outcomes and was a substantial obstacle to women obtaining abortions. However, the judge upheld the medical abortion limits "except when a physician finds such an abortion necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother." The 20-week ban was not challenged.
The state immediately appealed to lift the injunction. Three days after the trial judge's ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit lifted the injunction. Four days later, opponents filed an emergency application to reinstate the injunction.