The Supreme Court Just Agreed to Hear a Case that Could Destroy Roe v. Wade – —By Hannah Levintova | Fri Nov. 13, 2015 2:39 PM EST

This will be the high court’s first abortion case in nine years.

Steve Petteway/ Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

On Friday, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear its first abortion case in nine years. At issue in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole is HB 2, an omnibus Texas abortion law that made national headlines in 2013 after Texas Sen. Wendy Davis spent 11-hours filibustering the bill that eventually passed anyway.

Since 1992, the court has ruled on three abortion cases, each time affirming further abortion restrictions. In 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a divided court upheld the right to abortion, but left it to the states to set abortion restrictions, saying that these regulations can’t put an “undue burden” on abortion access. This broad ruling opened the door for the hundreds of so-called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers or TRAP laws that states have passed in recent years—onerous regulations placed on abortion providers, often purporting to protect women’s health. In its last ruling in 2007, the court upheld a law outlawing dilation-and-extraction second-trimester abortions. If the court continues its pattern of voting against abortion rights and rules to allow Texas to move forward with several burdensome abortion restrictions, it will open the door for other states to do the same, dealing a serious blow to the right to legal abortion guaranteed by Roe v. Wade.

“The Court now has the opportunity to decide whether we will continue to allow elected officials to play politics with women’s health.”

“The Court now has the opportunity to decide whether we will continue to allow elected officials to play politics with women’s health,” wrote Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a statement. “This case represents the greatest threat to women’s reproductive freedom since the Supreme Court decided Roe vs. Wade over 40 years ago. Laws like the ones being challenged in Texas are designed to subvert the Constitution and end the right to a safe and legal abortion.”

In this case, the justices are expected to focus on two of the Texas law’s most onerous requirements: that abortions be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, hospital-like facilities that specialize in outpatient surgery, and the requirement that abortion providers obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Many medical professionals argue that these restrictions put unnecessary burdens on abortion providers: Building and maintaining an ASC is expensive, given the strict requirements regarding features like hallway width and ventilation. Nor do ASCs enhance the standard of care for abortion; the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other medical groups have repeatedly noted that the procedure can be safely performed in a typical doctor’s office. The admitting privileges’ provision gives hospitals in conservative communities or with a religious affiliation the power to effectively stop abortions by denying the necessary admission privileges to doctors.

“The common-sense measures Texas has put in place elevate the standard of care and protect the health of Texas women,” wrote Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement released following Friday’s Supreme Court’s announcement. “We look forward to demonstrating the validity of these important health and safety requirements in Court.”

The number of abortion clinics in Texas has already been cut by more than half, as elements of HB 2, such as restrictions on medication abortion, a 20 week abortion ban, and the admitting privileges requirement, have gone into effect over the last two years. Before the law, there were 41 clinics in Texas. Today, there are 18. As my colleague Molly Redden reported in September, this has created large swathes of the state where women must travel hundreds of miles to get abortion care. If the Supreme Court upholds HB2 in full, including the ambulatory surgical center requirement, the number of abortion clinics in Texas could fall to ten.

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How the Deceptive Videos Attacking Planned Parenthood Are Hindering Cures for Deadly Diseases – —By Becca Andrews | Mon Oct. 26, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

People with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other afflictions will pay a price, scientists say.Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at Oct 27, 2015 1.54

Since July, an anti-abortion group’s deceptively edited videos targeting Planned Parenthood for allegedly profiting off sales of fetal tissue appear to have prompted at least four arson attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics. And even though the allegations were bogus, the vilification of the women’s health organization has done additional damage: Violent threats and a political chill in the wake of the videos have begun to undermine potentially life-saving research on diseases including diabetes, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. Fetal-tissue donation programs essential to such research have been shut down, supplies of the tissue to labs have dwindled, and legislation is brewing in multiple states that could hinder cutting-edge scientific studies.

“It’s anti-progress,” says Gail Robertson, a veteran researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who uses cell lines derived from fetal tissue to study heart disease, including sudden cardiac death, the largest cause of natural death in the United States. “We’re in a fight for the future of cures to the diseases that will affect us all.”

Since the 1990s, Robertson and her colleagues have developed pharmaceutical technology using cells from embryonic tissue known as the HEK line—research credited with saving lives from fatal heart disease. “If lawmakers were to say, ‘You can’t use HEK cells because they come from fetal tissue,’ it would be impossible to continue my work in my lab,” Robertson says. “It’s something we use every single day.”

“The CEO of StemExpress should be hung by the neck using piano wire and propped up on the lawn in front of the building,” one person threatened.

According to Theresa Naluai-Cecchini, a scientist at Birth Defects Research Lab at the University of Washington in Seattle, the political controversy has hurt the work at her lab, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health and also supplies other scientific researchers with fetal tissue. “We are in the last year of funding, and if we are unable to supply tissue to the research community we would have to close,” she says. “We may be able to obtain an extension, but the climate in DC does not look favorable in an election cycle.”

Naluai-Cecchini told the Seattle Times that over the past year her lab has distributed 1,109 tissue samples to more than 60 researchers elsewhere who are working on solutions for spinal cord injuries, eye disease, cancer, and HIV. That supply line relies on about two to three samples per day coming into Birth Defects Research Lab, which has long been the lab’s norm. But over the past month, Naluai-Cecchini told Mother Jones, only five specimens in total have come in. If that trend continues, she says, “promising research would stop until a commercial alternative is found. The cost of research would increase dramatically, and new findings would take considerably longer.”


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Nancy Pelosi smacks down a conservative reporter’s anti-abortion talking points – THURSDAY, OCT 1, 2015 08:54 AM PDT

Nancy Pelosi smacks down a conservative reporter's anti-abortion talking points

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has long been among Democrats’ fiercest champions of reproductive rights. She’s also a self-described “devout, practicing Catholic” and mother of five children. Pelosi sees no contradiction between her ardent feminism and her family and religious background, and she doesn’t hesitate to bring up the latter when discussing the former.

The former House Speaker vividly illustrated that during her weekly press briefing on Thursday, when a reporter seized on the recent controversy over federal Planned Parenthood funding to ask her whether a fetus constituted a human being.

“I am a devout, practicing Catholic. A mother of five children,” Pelosi responded. “When my [fifth] baby was born … my oldest child was six years old. I think I know more about this subject than you, with all due respect.”

Watch Pelosi’s mic-dropping moment here.

Supreme Court may hear Texas abortion case – By Jennifer Haberkorn 09/27/15 07:55 AM EDT

A ruling on the state’s requirements for abortion providers could roil the 2016 race.

Supreme Court justices will meet behind closed doors Monday to start the process of deciding which cases to take up this term, with all eyes on a challenge to a Texas abortion law that could roil the presidential race just months before voters go to the polls.

The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, centers on a series of far-reaching restrictions on Texas abortion providers and clinics, which led to the closure of about half of the state’s abortion facilities. It promises to be the most significant abortion case in at least two decades, and could inject divisive social issues into the presidential race at a key moment.

If the justices hear the case after their term officially begins Oct. 5, they are expected to focus on two of the most significant restrictions in the Texas law — that abortion providers must have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and that abortions be performed in facilities that meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers. Many other states — mostly red states where opposition to abortion is strong — have also imposed such restrictions.

Supporters say such laws ensure that women terminating pregnancies will get safe, quality care. But abortion rights advocates say that the regulations are unnecessarily onerous, often forcing clinic closures and that they are designed to restrict abortion, not make it safer.

The laws are part of a movement within many conservative states to increase the number of regulations on doctors and clinics that perform abortions. Arguments over the case will likely turn on whether the state has imposed an “undue burden” on women’s access to abortion.

In 1992, the court ruled in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that states could impose some restrictions on abortion as long as they did not pose an undue burden on a woman’s access to the procedure. A ruling in this case would be only the second time since the Casey decision that the high court has reviewed such limits.


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15 Years On, Conservatives Are Still Trying to Kill the Abortion Pill – —By Molly Redden | Fri Sep. 25, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Happy anniversary!

When the Food and Drug Administration approved the first abortion pill in the United States 15 years ago this September, the politics of the decision were so fraught that the agency wouldn’t even name the officials behind its decision. The pharmaceutical company making the drug—a pill called mifeprex—took pains to hide its address.

September 28 marks 15 years since the FDA approved mifepristone. And today, those fears seem misplaced. Since 2000, more than 2 million women have used the drug to have an abortion in the first nine weeks of pregnancy. Twenty-three percent of women who have an abortion today get a so-called medical abortion—most of them, using mifeprex. The drug has radically reshaped abortion availability for rural women, and Danco, the drugmaker, is out in the open.

Violent anti-abortion vigilantes, in other words, are no longer standing between women and mifepristone. Instead, as with so many facets of abortion in modern America, abortion foes are going after the abortion pill with restrictive new laws. It is easy to see why abortion foes are gunning for telemedicine. When polled, patients say they appreciate the privacy afforded by the pill. (Mifepristone is part of a two-drug regimen, and the second course can be taken at home.) It is also less expensive than a surgical abortion. Linda Greenhouse, a legal contributor to the New York Times, called it “the ultimate in women’s reproductive empowerment and personal privacy.” But the 2 million figure belies a sustained, and in many cases, successful campaign by conservative lawmakers and activists to put mifepristone out of reach. A decade and a half after mifepristone came on the market, abortion foes are blocking its progress with a vengeance.

The attacks on mifepristone come in two varieties: those that ban telemedicine, and those that force women taking the abortion pill to spend more travel time and money.

Telemedicine is what has allowed mifepristone to be part of a sweeping change in abortion access for thousands of rural women. Ground zero is in Iowa, at Planned Parenthood of the Heartland: Several times a week, Jill Meadows, a Planned Parenthood physician, appears via video conference to patients in seven other Planned Parenthood clinics across the state. A nurse seats a woman in a room with a computer monitor. Meadows and the patient talk via video feed. The patient takes the mifepristone with Meadows watching. Then, with a remote control, Meadows opens a drawer next to the woman containing pills that will cause the uterus to expel the pregnancy. The woman takes those pills at home; essentially, she has the abortion at home.

“It’s not much different at all whether I’m in the clinic,” Meadows recently told Mother Jones. “It’s the same exact process,” albeit one that saves many women hours of driving.


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Senate GOP starts fast-track on bill to block Planned Parenthood funding – By Jordain Carney September 21, 2015, 08:17 pm

Senate Republicans on Monday night started the Senate’s fast-track process on legislation that would block federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) began the process, known as Rule 14, that will allow the legislation to skip over the Senate’s committee process and go straight to the Senate floor where it can be brought up for a vote. The Senate will likely complete the process on Tuesday.

The legislation, which passed the House last week by a 241-187 vote, would place a one-year freeze on federal funding for the organization giving lawmakers more time to investigate claims of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood made in a string of controversial videos.

Senate Republicans also started the fast-track process on a House-passed bill that would tighten restrictions on abortion doctors who violate infant protections.

The proposals come as Republican leadership is under pressure to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood ahead of an end-of-the-month deadline to pass a government spending bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pledged to not let the government shutdown, and called his party’s push to defund Planned Parenthood as part of a spending bill an “exercise in futility.”

But Congress’ path to keeping the government open remains unclear with only a handful of days left before the deadline.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, told reporters that the Senate could take the lead on a funding bill, but added that “I don’t think it’s been finally decided.”

Court rules against ObamaCare birth control mandate – By Sarah Ferris – 09/17/15 04:23 PM EDT

Getty Images

A federal appeals court on Thursday ruled against ObamaCare’s birth control mandate in a decision that could invite a Supreme Court review.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that four Christian nonprofits should not have to comply with the ObamaCare rule that all employer healthcare plans include contraception options or face a fee. While employers can seek exemptions to the law, the court argued that doing so poses a “substantial burden” on that organization’s religious rights.

The decision is particularly important because it directly contradicts another federal court’s ruling.

“With today’s decisions, the [Supreme] Court will have great reason to decide this issue in the next term,” one religious rights group, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, wrote in a statement Thursday.

The Supreme Court already has several cases involving the birth control mandate it could take up in its fall term.

Conservatives were quick to praise the decision, which reignites a years-long battle against the ObamaCare rule.

“This court ruling is a victory for the rights of freedom and liberty that were critical to our Founding Fathers and American exceptionalism to this day,” Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) wrote in a statement Thursday.

The ruling includes 30 references to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the 2014 Supreme Court case that allowed certain for-profit companies to opt out of the mandate. Since that decision, multiple nonprofits, including universities, have taken legal action demanding to be granted the same permissions.

Under ObamaCare, employer healthcare plans are required to cover all federally approved forms of birth control. That includes, as the court notes, emergency contraception that some religious organizations believe is “functionally equivalent to abortion on demand.”

Groups can receive an exemption by writing a letter to the Health and Human Services Department or filling out a two-page form to document their objections. Houses of worships are automatically exempt from the law.

A White House spokeswoman on Thursday said the administration is “disappointed” in the decision, but believes the mandate will ultimately be upheld.

“As all of the other seven courts of appeals to address this issue have held, the contraceptive accommodation process strikes the proper balance between ensuring women have equal access to health care and protecting religious beliefs,” the spokeswoman said.

– Updated at 4:56 p.m.

Ben Carson just made life very hard for the GOP: Why his fetal tissue research matters – SIMON MALOY – FRIDAY, AUG 14, 2015 02:59 AM PDT

Ben Carson’s involvement with fetal tissue research is a big problem for the GOP’s fight against Planned Parenthood

Ben Carson just made life very hard for the GOP: Why his fetal tissue research matters

Enlarge Ben Carson (Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Well, the simmering scandal over the Planned Parenthood undercover sting videos has finally succeeded in tripping up a 2016 candidate. Retired neurosurgeon and sayer of crazy things Ben Carson has, like most Republicans and conservatives, been harshly critical of Planned Parenthood for its controversial (and perfectly legal) practice of donating tissues from aborted fetuses to medical research groups. But, as Buzzfeed reported yesterday, Carson himself has done research on fetal brain tissue. That in itself is not a controversial development – doctors and scientists have been using fetal tissue for decades to develop treatments and cures for terrible diseases. But with the conservative movement up in arms over the Planned Parenthood videos, it poses something of a political dilemma for Carson, who is stridently in opposition to abortion rights.

The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel asked Carson about the fetal tissue research he’s conducted and Carson, to his credit, stood by the work he’s done. But his attempt at distancing himself from the broader issue of fetal tissue donation was technical and confusing:

There was no contradiction between this science and Carson’s pro-life views, he said. “My primary responsibility in that research was when I operated on people and obtained the tissue,” said Carson, who noted that he has not used fetal tissue samples since then. “This has everything to do with how it’s required. If you’re killing babies and taking the tissue, that’s a very different thing than taking a dead specimen and keeping a record of it.”

I’ve read through Carson’s statement several times and I’m still not entirely sure what he is trying to say. Thankfully, I don’t seem to be the only person who is baffled by his attempt at explaining this. The Post’s Amber Phillips writes that Carson seems to be alleging that Planned Parenthood is performing abortions specifically so that fetal tissue will be available for medical research, but that’s an allegation that “Planned Parenthood has flatly rejected and isn’t proven by the videos.”

At the very least, Carson is trapped in an inconsistency and he’s having a great deal of difficulty explaining it. And while that doesn’t make Carson look particularly good, his involvement with fetal tissue research and his tortured defense of it   also cause problems for the other candidates and conservatives who are trying to demagogue the issue.

Carson’s fellow presidential hopefuls are all trying to outdo each other by taking increasingly hardline stances on Planned Parenthood. Ted Cruz just released an ad promising he’ll prosecute the organization and put an end to the “harvest” of “organs from unborn children,” which he says is contrary to American “values.” Mike Huckabee is also calling for Planned Parenthood to be prosecuted for “for violating federal law and selling body parts.” It’s tough to make the political case that the donation of fetal tissue for medical research is un-American and potentially criminal when celebrated physician and conservative hero Ben Carson is complicit in the act.

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The Abortion Pill: Ovary Action – Vice News Published on Aug 4, 2015

The medical abortion–a non-surgical procedure that induces a miscarriage through a cocktail of pharmaceutical drugs–is both widely legal and increasingly hard to obtain. To understand the limits of what could be a breakthrough in making abortions easier to access, Broadly hears from both sides of the debate. We travel to the front lines of the battle in Texas, where religious protesters camp outside rapidly closing clinics, as well as to an abortion spa in Washington, DC, where employees are working to de-stigmatize the stupidly controversial procedure. Internationally, we talk to Dr. Rebecca Gomperts from the charity Women On Waves, the physician who recently began using drones to deliver the abortion pill to countries where the procedure is illegal, and we visit a pharmacy in Mexico to see how easy it is to access the abortion pill just across the border. What we really want to know is: Why is it so hard to get a medical abortion when so much research has shown that it’s a safe, effective way to terminate a pregnancy?

Watch More Broadly Documentaries:

GOP drive to defund Planned Parenthood fails in the Senate – by Naureen Khan August 3, 2015 6:45PM ET

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at Aug 4, 2015 4.06

WASHINGTON — The controversy that erupted last month after a series of secretly recorded videos were released showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue donation came to a head Monday evening with a failed Senate vote to defund the organization.

Conservative lawmakers championed but ultimately failed to forward legislation — in a 53-to-46 vote — that would have stripped the organization of $528 million of federal funding. Sixty votes were needed to end debate on the bill and advance to a final vote.

Some GOP legislators have vowed, however, to keep up the fight. They are calling for the defunding provision to be attached to a spending bill needed to keep the government open later this fall — the same tactic that has been unsuccessfully attempted by Republicans in recent years to repeal the Affordable Care Act and stymie President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

The latest episode in the nation’s decades-old battle over abortion rights began when activists with an anti-abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress, posed as middlemen interested in procuring fetal tissue from abortion procedures and taped their conversations with senior Planned Parenthood officials.

The activists accuse Planned Parenthood employees of “selling” tissue and organs for profit, in violation of federal law. Planned Parenthood maintains that the videos have been selectively edited and that it only receives reimbursement for medical expenses when fetal tissue is donated to research organizations, in keeping with the law and with the consent of the patient.

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