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Believe It or Not: It’s Been a Good Week for Reproductive Rights

Brigitte Amiri,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
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August 3, 2017

There is plenty of disturbing news these days about the attempts to roll back the right to abortion. There is no question about it — we are living in a country where politicians are as determined as ever to obstruct access to basic reproductive rights. But there have been recent bright spots. I can’t live up to the hilarity of my colleague’s “Anyone Can Legally Say ‘Eat Shit, Bob’” blog, but I can promise good news.

For starters, federal district court judges in Alabama and Arkansas blocked outrageous restrictions on abortion access. The Alabama law was extreme: It amended the state’s law related to parental consent for an abortion. If a teen is unable to obtain parental consent — or fears doing so — she may seek a court order allowing her to proceed with an abortion without her parents’ consent. This is already a daunting obstacle to abortion access. But Alabama decided to add insult to injury by forcing the teen to stand trial, including allowing the court to appoint a lawyer for the fetus. The law was so absurd that Jessica Williams was all over it on The Daily Show.

The Arkansas laws were a grab bag of one insulting, harmful restriction after another, including a ban on a safe and medically proven abortion method, which would have made abortion completely unavailable for some women as the pregnancy progressed. And, as a real throwback, Arkansas tossed in a requirement that effectively required the woman’s partner to receive notification of the abortion and then gave him the ability to block her abortion. Even if the woman had been raped. Really.

In another state — one that does not start with A, lest you think all abortion fights happen in states that start with A — the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit successfully prohibiting anti-abortion extremists from blocking the entrance to the last remaining abortion clinic in Kentucky. Back in May, anti-abortion individuals physically blocked the entrance of the clinic, preventing patients from entering or leaving the clinic.

Talk about a throwback — we had not seen these types of clinic blockades since the early 1990s, in part because Congress passed a law in 1994 preventing individuals from blocking the entrance of a reproductive clinic called the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances or FACE Act. As a result of the Justice Department’s lawsuit and a tremendous coming together of the national and local community — including National Abortion Federation, Feminist Majority Foundation, Louisville Clinic Escorts, A Fund, and national and local law enforcement — patients were able to access the clinic last week while hundreds of anti-abortion protestors descended on Louisville, Kentucky.

Arkansas’s law required the woman’s partner to receive notification of the abortion and then gave him the ability to block her abortion. Even if the woman had been raped. Really.

The next two cases are not about striking down ridiculous, extreme laws or literally keeping the clinic doors open, but they are about expanding access to abortion. Back to the letter A: Alaska. As a result of litigation, the Alaska Medical Board decided to change antiquated restrictions on abortion later in pregnancy, including a requirement that abortion later in pregnancy must be performed in an operating room. Alaskan women seeking an abortion later in their pregnancy were required to fly to Seattle to get care. Now, women will be able to get care in their home state.

And here’s another victory in the “access expansion” category — Skagit County, Washington. We filed suit under the state’s Reproductive Privacy Act to challenge Skagit County’s public hospital’s refusal to provide abortion. We got an amazing decision in the lower court, but the hospital appealed. Yesterday, we reached an agreement with the hospital. The hospital agreed to drop the appeal and to start providing abortion. This victory is so important for women in that area.

There are obviously many fights still on the horizon, and in many parts of the country, women struggle to get the care they need because of #BullshitLaws passed by politicians. (I wanted to swear, too.) But we keep fighting. And we (often) keep winning. And we will keep doing so until all women are able to get the care they need.

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