NEW YORK - CIRCA DECEMBER 2020: Crowd of people wearing masks walking in the street.

The Pandemic Policy Excuse of ‘Meeting People Where They Are’

By Daniel Goldberg

Too often throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers have justified controversial policy choices by stating that the world is not arranged in a way to make certain actions feasible. While practical difficulties matter, permitting such difficulties to exhaust the scope of our ethical obligations is a grave mistake that moves us farther away from a just and equitable world.

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Washington, DC, USA, May 5, 2022: people protest the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and the right to abortion

Stemming Supreme Court Rights Reversals

By James G. Hodge, Jr.

Based on the May 2022 leak of an initial draft, most believe the Supreme Court will carry through some rescission of abortion rights later this month through its final opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Already, concerns have arisen over other freedoms the Court may seriously reconsider down the road, including rights to gay marriage, intimacy, contraception, and informational privacy.

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Black and white photograph of the front of the Supreme Court. Pro-abortion protestors stand holding signs, one of which reads "I stand with Whole Woman's Health"

A Brief History of Abortion Jurisprudence in the United States

By James R. Jolin

POLITICO’s leak of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization suggests that U.S. abortion rights are on the verge of a fundamental shift.

If the official decision, expected this month, hews closely to the draft, the constitutional right to abortion affirmed in Roe v. Wade (1973), Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), and other seminal Supreme Court rulings will disappear.

This brief history of abortion rights and jurisprudence in the United States aims to clarify just what is at stake in this case.

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Washington, DC, USA, May 5, 2022: people protest the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and the right to abortion

The Leaked Dobbs Opinion, Explained

By Chloe Reichel

On May 2, 2022, Politico published a leaked draft of the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which showed the Supreme Court’s intent to overturn the right to abortion as decided in Roe v. Wade.

In response to the leak, the Petrie-Flom Center hosted a discussion with legal historian and Daniel P.S. Paul Visiting Professor of Constitutional Law Mary Ziegler and Petrie-Flom Center Faculty Director, James A. Attwood and Leslie Williams Professor of Law, and Deputy Dean I. Glenn Cohen.

Together, Cohen and Ziegler explained the background of the case, the contents of the draft opinion, and its potential implications not just for abortion access, but also for other constitutionally-protected rights, and for access to reproductive technologies, such as in-vitro fertilization.

The highlights of the conversation have been edited and condensed below.

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People wearing masks on bus.

Flaws in the Textualist Argument Against the CDC Mask Mandate

By Stefan Th. Gries, Michael Kranzlein, Nathan Schneider, Brian Slocum, and Kevin Tobia

In Health Freedom Defense Fund, Inc. v. Biden, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida ruled that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s transit mask order, which was issued to stem the spread of SARS-CoV-2, exceeds the agency’s statutory authority, and struck down the mandate through a nation-wide injunction.

The district court’s reasoning exemplifies modern textualism. It focuses on the text of the 1944 Public Health Services Act (PHSA), which the Biden Administration claims authorizes the CDC’s transit mask order. The court relied heavily on the statute’s “ordinary meaning” and especially one word: “sanitation.”

Does the evidence support the court’s linguistic conclusions? Our team — of linguists, social scientists, philosophers of language, and lawyers — took a second look. We conclude that the district court’s approach fails on its own textualist terms. It gives the impression of selective reading of the linguistic record, rather than the careful investigation of meaning that textualism claims to champion.

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Medicine law concept. Gavel and stethoscope on book close up

Transdisciplinary Integration: The Only Way Forward for Public Health

By Scott Burris

As we look toward National Public Health Week amid two long years of a pandemic, reflection for us at the Center for Public Health Law Research has focused on how we move forward in a mostly broken public health system. We see public health law as a central component of a strong future for public health, where transdisciplinary partnership leads the way.

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WASHINGTON MAY 21: Pro-choice activists rally to stop states’ abortion bans in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on May 21, 2019.

Tennessee on My Mind: Reflections on the Reinstated Abortion ‘Reason Bans’

By Cathy Zhang

In February, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a one-sentence order allowing Tennessee’s “reason ban” abortion restrictions to go into effect. The restrictions make it a felony for a provider (or any other person) to perform an abortion if the provider “knows” the patient is seeking an abortion on account of the fetus’s sex, race, or probable diagnosis of Down syndrome.

The court below had previously enjoined the Tennessee law, which also includes a pre-viability abortion ban. This order leaves the previability ban in place while lifting the injunction on the reason bans; the reason bans will remain in effect until the Supreme Court makes a further ruling on abortion in Dobbs. In her dissent, Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore charged that the court’s order “subvert[s] the normal judicial process” and reflects a growing tendency of federal courts “to delay the adjudication of laws that significantly impair constitutional rights.”

Numerous health organizations, racial justice groups, and disability advocates alike have warned against the harms that the reason bans will inflict on people of color and disabled persons. Statements from these groups, along with 19 states and the District of Columbia, a host of constitutional law scholars, and other amici make clear that the law’s purported concern for marginalized groups belies an effort to restrict abortion access at the expense of pregnant people’s health and constitutional rights.

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Abortion rights protest following the Supreme Court decision for Whole Women's Health in 2016

A ‘Middle Ground’ in the Legal Abortion Debate Disproportionately Harms Marginalized Communities

By Adrienne R. Ghorashi, Esq.

All eyes are on SCOTUS after the Court heard oral arguments on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and issued narrow rulings in cases related to Texas SB8 early this month. The line of questioning, as well as the Court’s continued decision to allow most abortions in Texas to come to a screeching halt, are a distressing signal that abortion rights are in immediate danger. Under Roe and Casey, bans on abortion prior to fetal viability (around 24 weeks) are a violation of a pregnant person’s constitutional right. While some have characterized Chief Justice Robert’s comments as searching for a supposed compromise to overturning Roe, this proposition ignores the stark reality of the legal landscape of abortion in the United States.

Pre-viability abortion bans, such as the one in Dobbs, already exist in 25 states, ranging from bans at any point in pregnancy, to 6-week “fetal heartbeat” bans, to the more common 20-week ban. Pre-viability abortion bans can also include “reason-based” bans that seek to prohibit abortion based on a person’s reason for seeking one. Many of these states have more than one type of abortion ban in their laws. Although most of the more extreme pre-viability bans are not currently in effect due to court rulings (with Texas SB8 being a frightening harbinger of a post-Roe nation), this legal standard is precisely what’s at stake in Dobbs.

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(Institute for the feeble-minded, Lincoln, Ill. / Library of Congress)

Brittney Poolaw and the Long Tradition of State-Sponsored Control of Women and Their Fertility

By Lauren Breslow

On October 5, 2021, a 20-year-old Native American woman, Brittney Poolaw, was convicted by an Oklahoma jury of manslaughter for the death of her 17-week-old, non-viable fetus.

Her conviction stands as a modern recapitulation of the historical violations that women, especially Black and Brown women, have endured regarding their fertility.

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New York City, New York/USA June 2, 2020 Black Lives Matter Protest March demanding justice for George Floyd and other victims of police brutality.

The Centrality of Social Movements in Addressing the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Malia Maier and Terry McGovern

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in higher rates of family violence. For advocates and funders, this provided important opportunities to partner with movements, including racial justice, Gender-Based Violence (GBV), Reproductive Justice, and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) movements.

We interviewed 24 GBV and SRHR service providers, advocacy organizations, and donors throughout the country to understand how the pandemic and concurrent racial justice movements were impacting critical GBV and SRHR services.

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