As quarrels over Planned Parenthood and its federal funding continue to dominate the news cycle, all seems quiet on the reproductive rights front at the state level — except it's been anything but dormant. In the wake of Planned Parenthood-gate — which still isn't over — there's actually been a number of significant reproductive rights victories, from shuttered clinics reopening across Texas to federal courts striking down junk science about abortion in Arizona. Of course, the anti-choice saga to defund Planned Parenthood has also triggered a new round of abortion clinic harassment, with clinics from the East to West coasts now enduring arson and vandalism. This week in reproductive rights has been no different — a mix of major triumphs, new battles, and persistent legal fights.
Although the first Democratic presidential debate failed to discuss reproductive rights, the following events from this week highlight just how much reproductive health is still at the forefront of American politics. With many abortion laws still tied up in litigation, and the Supreme Court set to rule on major abortion legislation in 2016, there may many more victories to come in the future — or so we hope.
Here's what you missed this week in reproductive rights...
Two Victories For Arizona Women
Arizona abortion providers celebrated two significant legal victories this week in cases that may impact similar anti-abortion laws in other states. On Thursday, a state court permanently blocked a 2012 Arizona law that would change the protocol abortion providers commonly follow to administer the abortion pill. The law would have required women to make at least two trips to the clinic to receive both pill dosages, and would have limited pill-induced abortions to the seventh week of pregnancy, instead of the ninth week of pregnancy that most abortion providers currently prescribe. As a result of these changes in protocol, medication abortions would end up being all but outlawed in Arizona.
According to Planned Parenthood representatives, nearly half of all abortions in Arizona are done through the abortion pill. The medication abortion legislation has never gone into effect in Arizona, having been blocked in the past by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
On Friday, a federal district court delivered yet another reproductive rights victory for Arizona women. The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona issued an order blocking a recently passed Arizona law requiring abortion providers to inform their patients of "abortion reversal" — a scientifically dubious procedure that critics claim is based on junk science. A trial hearing on the law has also been postponed, because the state's expert witness lacked the "publication and research background and experience" to qualify as a primary witness.
The so-called "abortion reversal" procedure would require patients to take a scientifically untested pill after taking a dosage of mifepristone, the first part of the abortion pill. The "abortion reversal" program was developed by anti-abortion physician George Delgado, who currently oversees the Culture of Life Family Health Care.
"Women seeking safe and legal abortion need high-quality care and accurate information, not lies dressed up as medicine," Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. "Today’s order ensures that facts will continue to prevail over politics. We are confident that the flimsy justification for this law will continue to crumble and the measure will be struck down permanently.”
Planned Parenthood Fights For Utah Patients
Planned Parenthood representatives battled Utah officials in court this week over yet another state attempt to block federal funds from going toward local Planned Parenthood clinics. In August, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert cut off nearly $300,000 in federal funds from Planned Parenthood, causing the family-planning organization to file a lawsuit in September. Utah has nine Planned Parenthood clinics, and just one of them provides abortions. The state affiliate also doesn't have a fetal tissue donation program, which was the controversy that initially sparked the calls for defunding.
But on Friday, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups ruled that Utah Planned Parenthood must continue receiving federal funds right now. The judge said he plans to issue a more permanent ruling in the near future.
Planned Parenthood Changes Fetal Tissue Donation Policy
Speaking of Planned Parenthood's fetal tissue donation program, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards announced a major change to the policy this week. Richards said Planned Parenthood would no longer receive reimbursement payments for its fetal tissue donation — an action that has been misconstrued by anti-abortion activists as Planned Parenthood selling fetal parts.
While this move may seem like a defeat, Richards and her colleagues believe this change of policy shows how Planned Parenthood is remaining strong and unscathed during this public attack. “This is Planned Parenthood standing strong, saying that we are not going to be bullied, even by five congressional committees, into walking away from important research and women’s desire to donate,” Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president, told The New York Times. “We are not going to stand around getting flogged with false accusation for something that’s never been our motivation to participate in tissue donation.”
California CPCs Battle Over Free Speech
California is one of the only states in the nation to expand abortion rights in recent years, but the state still feels blowback from anti-abortion activists. A new fight over free speech limitations in currently brewing in the Golden State following the passage of a new law forcing crisis pregnancy centers to inform their patients about abortion and birth control. The Reproductive FACT Act states that clinics must "disseminate a notice to all clients, as specified, stating, among other things, that California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, prenatal care, and abortion, for eligible women." Unlicensed clinics and facilities, such as many CPCs, must also state that their centers are not licensed medical facilities.
Now, anti-abortion groups are filing federal civil law suits challenging the law, claiming it infringes on their free speech rights. "Requiring these non-profit religious clinics to post a large sign advertising abortion is the equivalent of making Alcoholics Anonymous post a large sign stating where members get free alcohol," Brad Dacus, President of the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), one of the organizations suing the state of California, told BuzzFeed News.
It's unclear at this time how these anti-abortion groups' arguments will hold up in court. The state of California said it intends to defend its new "fact" law no matter what.