4 Reproductive Rights Wins And Fails You Missed This Week

It's the new year — and a new opportunity for America to get serious about reproductive justice and halt the stunning rollback on abortion rights, birth control policies, and healthcare for pregnant women that has become central to American politics over the last few years. As The New York Times editorial board wrote in December, the 57 new abortion restrictions passed by state legislatures in 2015 were part of "a tireless, coordinated assault" on the reproductive rights of American women. In 2016, the legality of some of these abortion restrictions will be decided by the Supreme Court in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, one of the biggest and most anticipated cases next term.

Before we truly said goodbye to 2015, though, there were a few reproductive rights wins and fails that sneaked in before the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1. Here are the reproductive rights stories you missed this week...

Judge Blocks Stringent Arkansas Abortion Ban

On Thursday, a federal judge blocked a new Arkansas abortion law tailored to halt pill-induced abortions at two Planned Parenthood clinics in the state. U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a temporary injunction Thursday night delaying the law from taking effect Jan. 1, because the new restriction on medication abortion "would result in an undue burden and have the effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman's right to choose to have an abortion of a nonviable fetus." The 14-day injunction came after Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law.

If the law takes effect, abortion providers in Arkansas would need a contract with a physician who has admitting privileges at a local hospital in order to administer the so-called abortion pill (mifepristone and misoprostol). The physician will also have to agree to handle any complications that may result from a medication abortion.

The law also mandates abortion providers to follow the FDA-approved protocol for administering the abortion pill. Abortion providers, however, have long said that the FDA regimen, which has not been updated since 2000, is outdated and inadequate. Medication abortions are a two-part process, and the FDA regimen requires that both drugs must be taken at the clinic in the presence of a doctor. But almost all abortion providers in the United States now follow the evidence-based protocol, which allows patients to take the second drug (misoprostol) in the comfort of their own homes. According to the Guttmacher Institute, virtually all Planned Parenthood facilities follow this protocol. In fact, Guttmacher researchers have found that 83 percent of U.S. abortion providers were following the evidence-based protocol as far back as 2001.

The evidence-based protocol cuts down on the number of trips patients must make to the clinic. Under this new law, women seeking abortion in Arkansas would have to make at least three trips to the clinic, because the state also requires a 48-hour waiting period and in-person counseling before the procedure.

Is North Carolina's New Abortion Law An Invasion of Privacy?

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A new abortion restriction that took effect in North Carolina on Friday is already being question by reproductive health advocates in the state. The law requires abortion providers to submit the ultrasounds of patients more than 16 weeks pregnant to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services without their consent. Anti-abortion activists in the state claim the new law is meant to ensure that abortions aren't being performed after 20 weeks, which is the cut-off for legal abortion procedures in North Carolina.

Although the law does state that it will not release the names of the patients, Planned Parenthood employees say the policy is an invasion of privacy for both the patients and their doctors. "This is really a violation of women's privacy and their ability to make deeply personal decisions without interference from politicians," Melissa Reed, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes! South Atlantic, told local news source WRAL.

ACLU Goes After California Hospitals Allegedly Denying Reproductive Health Care

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The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Dignity Health, a California-based hospital group formerly operated by the Catholic Church. Although the hospital administration is no longer ran by the Catholic Church, the ACLU alleges that Dignity Health still uses religious directives to deny certain reproductive health procedures to its female patients. The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is Rebecca Chamorro, a Redding, California, resident who requested to undergo tubal ligation following her upcoming C-section procedure at Dignity Health’s Mercy Medical Center. Her request has been denied, because tubal ligation is against the Catholic Church. The ACLU claims the hospital cited the directives written by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which called tubal ligation "intrinsically evil."

Dignity Health is the fifth-largest hospital group in California, and is often the only hospital in the area, such as in Chamorro's case.

"The refusal of hospitals to allow doctors to perform basic health procedures based solely on religious doctrine presents a real threat to a woman’s ability to access health care," Elizabeth Gill, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement. "Patients seeking medical care from public institutions should not have to worry that religious doctrine rather than medical judgment will dictate what care they receive."

Oregon Increases Access To The Birth Control Pill And Patches

Starting Jan. 1, women in Oregon can receive over-the-counter birth control pills and patches, eliminating the trip to the doctor's office. House Bill 2879 grants licensed pharmacists in the state the ability to prescribe birth control pills and patches, only requiring women to fill out a simple questionnaire. Yes, it's that simple.

Oregon isn't the first state to allow over-the-counter birth control — California also passed a similar bill in 2015. However, California has yet to implement its over-the-counter birth control law, making Oregon a trailblazer in reproductive health access.

Also starting Jan. 1, health insurers will be required to provide 12 months worth of birth control pills all at once, instead of forcing women refill their birth control packs every month. Reproductive health care advocates say providing a year-long supply of birth control pills makes it easier for women to be consistent with their birth control and ensure that they have access to birth control in the long term.