Over the past several years, state lawmakers have been busy enacting a record-breaking number of restrictions related to reproductive health. Some of the new state-level laws intended to limit access to abortion are the most stringent this country has ever seen since Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure in 1973.
But despite the War on Women’s rapid advancements, anti-choice lawmakers are running into roadblocks in court. In fact, states attempting to restrict abortion have a 0-for-8 losing streak so far this year. Legal challenges to harsh state laws have resulted in an increasing number of victories for women’s health advocates, successfully blocking measures that fall into several different categories:
Stringent abortion bans: This past year, North Dakota and Arkansas enacted the harshest abortion bans in the nation, cutting off access to the procedure at six weeks and 12 weeks, respectively. But they haven’t been allowed to take effect. A federal judge blocked Arkansas’ 12-week ban in June, and just one month later, a different judge issued a temporary injunction against North Dakota’s six-week ban. A handful of other states have tried to more subtly chip away at Roe‘s protections by banning abortion at 20 weeks, but courts have been unwilling to allow that, either. 20-week bans in Idaho, Georgia, and Arizona have all been blocked for violating women’s right to choose an abortion until the point of viability, generally understood to be around 23 weeks of pregnancy.
Unnecessary regulations on abortion providers: Indirectly limiting access to abortion by imposing harsh regulations on abortion providers, with the ultimate goal of forcing clinics to close their doors, has been a popular anti-choice tactic lately. States are passing laws that require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges with local hospitals, even though that’s medically unnecessary to ensure safe abortion care. And federal judges are seeing through them. These types of laws have been blocked from taking effect in Mississippi, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Alabama, and Kansas. In a recent opinion declaring that Wisconsin’s abortion clinic restrictions shouldn’t be allowed to take effect, a federal judge called them “a solution in search of a problem.”
Efforts to defund Planned Parenthood: Just this week, Arizona became the latest state that’s legally prohibited from cutting off Medicaid funding from its Planned Parenthood clinics simply because they may offer abortion care. Cutting off public funding to the national women’s health organization is a popular method of targeting abortion, but federal judges have consistently held that it violates federal law because states shouldn’t be discriminating against qualified Medicaid providers. Last month, Indiana — which was the very first state to attempt to defund Planned Parenthood in this way, sparking somewhat of a national trend — officially gave up trying after a losing legal battle.
Restrictions on access to contraception: Some states have looked beyond the fight over abortion to attempt to restrict access to birth control. Especially since Obamacare takes big steps to expand women’s access to affordable birth control, some state lawmakers are fighting back. Missouri enacted a law that would have allowed employers to deny contraceptive coverage to their workers for any reason, but a federal judge overturned it in March. And after Oklahoma enacted a measure that would have kept age restrictions on over-the-counter emergency contraception, even though the FDA has changed its policy to remove them, a district judge stepped in to block the law from taking effect.
But reproductive rights activists warn that it’s not good enough to hope that courts will continually protect Americans from stringent state-level legislation. Some areas of country — like Texas, which recently enacted sweeping restrictions on abortion providers — are under the jurisdiction of extremely conservative courts of appeals that aren’t likely to overturn these type of laws. And, of course, abortion opponents are ultimately trying to pile on the lawsuits in order to provoke a Supreme Court challenge to Roe v. Wade, and there’s no telling what will happen if they’re successful.
“The courts are incredibly important stopgaps, but nobody should be sanguine to think the courts are the solution to this,” Louise Melling, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, said in a recent interview with Bloomberg. “It’s important that people realize the impact of these restrictions is real.”