abortion protest outside supreme court.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Reveals the Stakes of the Campaign Against Abortion

By Mary Ziegler

Once again, we’re talking about whether abortion counts as health care. The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked new efforts to limit access, from the government’s unwillingness to lift in-person requirements for medication abortion to the introduction of stay-at-home orders blocking access altogether. The campaign to frame abortion as a moral, not medical, issue began decades ago. The pandemic has revealed the broader stakes of this campaign — and what it might mean for access to care well after the worst of the pandemic is behind us.

For antiabortion leaders, there are obvious strategic reasons to insist that abortion is not health care. The stigma surrounding abortion is real and durable. Notwithstanding recent increases, many obstetric programs do not provide comprehensive abortion training (if they provide any training at all). A 2020 study in Plos One found that a majority of patients believed that they would be looked down upon “at least a little” for having had an abortion. This perceived stigma affects those refused abortions — and causes longer-term adverse mental health outcomes. Stigma has long been an effective tool for the antiabortion movement. The pandemic has done nothing to change that.

But, put in historical context, today’s effort to treat reproductive services as unessential means much more. That campaign is part of a broader agenda to undermine the idea of an autonomy-rooted abortion rights — and lay the groundwork for overturning Roe v. Wade.

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abortion protest outside supreme court.

Abortion and the Law in America: Video Preview with Mary Ziegler

The Health Law Policy, Bioethics, and Biotechnology Workshop provides a forum for discussion of new scholarship in these fields from the world’s leading experts.

The workshop is led by Professor I. Glenn Cohen, and presenters come from a wide range of disciplines and departments.

In this video, Mary Ziegler gives a preview of her paper, “Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present,” which she will present at the Health Law Policy workshop on October 19, 2020. Watch the full video below:

Washington DC.,USA, April 26, 1989. Supporters for and against legal abortion face off during a protest outside the United States Supreme Court Building during Webster V Health Services.

Event Video from “Reproductive Rights in 2020”

On July 16, 2020, the Petrie-Flom Center hosted a moderated discussion on recent developments for reproductive rights in the U.S.

2020 has been a notable year for reproductive rights, with the Supreme Court deciding June Medical Services v. Russo, and the COVID-19 pandemic affecting access to abortion, sexual health, and reproductive health services.

Watch panelists Mary Ziegler, Jamille Fields AllsbrookLouise P. King, and Julie Rikelman discuss these developments in a conversation moderated by Emily Bazelon.

London.UK.June 10th 2017.Anti DUP demonstration takes place in Parliament Square.

The Challenge of Implementing Abortion Law Reform in Northern Ireland During COVID-19

By Fiona Bloomer

As observed in the first two decades of the 21st century, abortion exceptionalism has carried through into 2020, remaining one of the most politicized issues globally.

In Northern Ireland (NI), this exceptionalism is evident in landmark developments to improve access, as well as in concerns over obstructions to services. Read More

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June Medical Services and Access to Abortion: Comparative Lessons for the African Region

By Charles Ngwena

Drawing lessons from June Medical Services provides the African human rights system with an opportunity not to affirm what it has in common with the U.S., but rather to uphold its own approach and articulate the jurisprudence that sets it apart.

The U.S. regulates abortion primarily through its Supreme Court using jurisprudence which frames abortion as a right implied in the constitutional right to privacy.

On the other side of the comparison, the African human rights system frames abortion as a human right that transcends national borders in the African region. By “human rights system,” I am referring to the regional system founded under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) and its supplementary treaties, especially the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol).

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Person typing on computer.

Substantial Obstacles after June Medical Services: ACOG v. FDA

By Rachel Rebouché

In June Medical Services v. Russo, the Supreme Court held that a Louisiana law requiring that physicians obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital was unconstitutional. Had the law taken effect, all but one provider would have lost the ability to deliver abortion care in the state. Despite the result, a number of commentators have expressed concern about the future of abortion rights. The source of their concerns is the Chief Justice’s application of the undue burden test—the standard for judging the constitutionality of an abortion restriction—established in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Justice Breyer, who wrote the judgment of the Court in June Medical Services, balanced the benefits and burdens conferred by the law, finding that the statute offered no benefit for people’s health and created significant burdens on the delivery of abortion. The admitting-privileges requirement does not protect patients’ safety because complications from abortion are rare and thus rarely will a patient need admission to a hospital. Moreover, admitting privileges, which the district court found each provider had pursued in good faith, do not determine a physician’s competency or credentials.

Although Chief Justice Roberts’s concurrence provided the fifth vote to strike down the law, Roberts wrote separately to emphasize that whether the Louisiana law had any identifiable benefit for patients was immaterial. The Court need only address what burdens the law imposed—if a law establishes “significant obstacles” to abortion. Roberts’s concurrence clearly departs from Breyer’s approach of weighing the law’s benefits against its burdens. Breyer’s formulation would render a law unconstitutional if it had no health benefits but erected a minimal obstacle to abortion care. Roberts’s approach would not: a law only fails the undue burden test—no matter how unsuccessful legislation is in achieving its purported goals—if the restriction renders abortion access substantially more difficult.

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abortion protest outside supreme court.

Upholding Precedent While Rewriting It in June Medical Services v. Russo

By Mary Ziegler

Before the Supreme Court’s decision in June Medical Services v. Russo, many wondered if the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority would begin to do away with precedents, starting with the 2016 decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. But Chief Justice John Roberts voted with his liberal colleagues that Louisiana’s admitting privileges law could not “stand under our precedents.” And yet he felt curiously free to rewrite the very same precedents he claimed to respect.

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

Reflections on the Transnational Significance of June Medical

By Fiona de Londras

By any ordinary standard of comparativism, one might suggest that the abortion jurisprudence of the United States is so particular to its own circumstances that it ought to be considered sui generis.

But U.S. Supreme Court abortion law decisions always attract international attention, not only because of the (perhaps peculiarly) combative nature of U.S. abortion law, but also because the United States is something of a bellwether for abortion law reform.

This is, in truth, rather undesirable. U.S. abortion law is shaped by the idiosyncrasies of at least three power struggles playing out in particular ways in the American politico-legal landscape: contestations between anti-abortion and pro-choice politics and activism, constitutionalist struggles between judicial and legislative decision-makers, and constitutional tensions between states and federal authority.

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Fairview Heights, IL—Jan 5, 2020; Sign on medical clinic announces Planned Parenthood branch is now open, the southern Illinois clinic was built to serve St Louis after Missouri restricted abortions.

Preventing Access to Abortion is Prima Facie an “Undue Burden”

By Louise P. King

As an obstetrician/gynecologist, lawyer, and bioethicist, when I read Supreme Court rulings on reproductive rights, I am struck by how little the Court understands the restrictive and burdensome nature of our medical system for women.

The latest decision on reproductive rights, June Medical Services LLC v Russo, does not bolster my confidence in the Court. The decision was narrowly won. While Chief Justice John Roberts’ concurrence gives deference to precedent, it and the dissent suggest that a slightly different statutory requirement — equally and unnecessarily restrictive of access to needed care — could, in the future, be upheld.

This is a problem given that the U.S. health care system is already rife with and primed for gender-based inequities.

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protest sign at supreme court

The Narrow Victory of June Medical Might Pave the Way for Future Abortion Restrictions

By David S. Cohen

June Medical v. Russo was a victory for Louisiana’s three independent abortion clinics and the thousands of people in the state they can now continue to serve. But, going forward, Chief Justice Roberts’ concurring opinion could pave the way for federal courts to bless a host of abortion restrictions that would make access to care more difficult.

To understand what might happen based on the Chief’s opinion, it’s instructive to look at Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In that case, the Court announced the undue burden test, a test that in theory could have had bite. Per the decision, “An undue burden exists, and therefore a provision of law is invalid, if its purpose or effect is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”

However, in Casey itself, the Court applied the standard and upheld almost all of the restrictions before it — a parental interference requirement, an abortion-only extreme informed consent process, and a 24-hour mandatory delay. The only provision the Court struck down under the undue burden test was the requirement that a married woman notify her husband before having an abortion.

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