Women’s Rights in Court

As 2013 proves to be one of the most severe years in recent history in terms of the legislative attacks on access reproductive health care, pro-choice groups across the nation are taking anti-choice restrictions to court and fighting for constitutional rights.         

In IowaPlanned Parenthood of the Heartland, which offers reproductive health services to women across the state, is challenging a recent ban on telemedicine procedures.  Appointed by anti-choice Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, the Iowa Board of Medicine voted to ban telemedicine abortion, which allows doctors to prescribe and administer drugs from another part of the state for women seeking abortions in the early weeks of pregnancy.  The innovative video-conferencing method has proven safe and effective, and for women who live in rural areas, it can be their only means to access these services.  In their decision, the Board cited safety concerns as the reason for banning the procedure, but many people see the move as little more than a veiled attempt to limit Iowa women’s access to abortion.  As Planned Parenthood President Jill June explains, “there was no medical evidence or information presented to the Board that questions the safety of our telemedicine delivery system,” and no complaints have been filed against the system.  In the uncommon event that complications do arise, trained staff are on hand to ensure that women receive the medical treatment they need.  The ban is scheduled to go into effect in November, and if not struck down by a judge, would cut the number of towns where first-trimester abortion services are offered in half.

A lawsuit has also been filed in the state of Texas, which passed an omnibus bill this summer designed to drastically curb women’s access to abortion and reproductive health services.   Filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union and George Brothers Kincaid & Horton, a Texas-based law firm, the suit represents more than a dozen health care providers who argue that the law will be harmful to their patients and is unconstitutional.  Like the Iowa restriction, the constraints in Texas were passed in the name of women’s health despite being largely opposed by doctors and lacking legitimate evidence to support the infringement.  The suit is targeting two specific requirements within the bill: one requires physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and the second imposes outdated procedural requirements for women receiving abortion-inducing drugs.  Hospital admitting privilege requirements have become a popular tool of the anti-choice movement in recent years, being difficult to comply with and unnecessary for the safety of patients, but a number of states have already had such laws struck down by the courts.  The Texas bill includes a number of other draconian provisions, but the pro-choice groups are currently focused on the restrictions that will have the most immediate impact, with attorney Jim George explaining that “you can only do so much.”  And indeed, there is much to be done if women’s individual rights and access to healthcare are to be preserved in Texas.  If not halted by a judge, the law will most likely leave only 5 clinics open in a large state which also recently made drastic cuts to funding for women’s preventative health services. Four family planning clinics that also provide abortions have already announced they will soon be shutting their doors. 

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