Planned Parenthood and its pro-choice allies filed lawsuits challenging potentially unconstitutional abortion restrictions in Alaska, Missouri and North Carolina. The Associated Press reports that this is likely part of an offensive to protect women’s right to safe and legal abortions, before a pro-life Donald Trump takes over the presidency alongside a GOP-controlled Congress.
“A woman must be able to make health decisions at different points in her pregnancy that are best for her circumstances, including whether to end a pregnancy, without interference from politicians,” Irena Como, staff attorney for the ACLU of North Carolina, told the AP.
In Missouri, abortion clinics must conform to standards set for surgical centers. Doctors performing abortions must also have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals. These restrictions, which many pro-choice experts see as medically unnecessary, have effectively closed all but one licensed abortion clinic in the state. According to the AP, some women must drive more than 300 miles to the singular St. Louis clinic for each abortion appointment.
Legislators in Alaska have kept in-place an outdated law, passed more than 40 years ago, that bans abortion in outpatient health centers after the first trimester of pregnancy. While second trimester abortions are technically still legal, the vast majority of abortion clinics in the state are outpatient centers. According to Alaska Dispatch News, this means that women must make costly and time-consuming trips to other states (usually Washington) for a legal abortion.
“People are forced to travel hundreds of miles, cross state lines, miss work, lose wages and jeopardize their health and safety to obtain an abortion,” said Carrie Flaxman, an attorney with Planned Parenthood, to NPR.
Similarly, North Carolina banned all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, outside of immediate medical emergencies. Therefore, women with risky pregnancies may be forced to carry a fetus and delay proper care unless they are immediately going to die or have major medical issues as a result of giving birth.
The challenge to these regulations, filed by Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights, follow a major U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year. SCOTUS ruled that strict abortion laws in Texas, similar to those in Missouri, were unconstitutional and medically unnecessary. In particular, the Missouri lawsuit asks for an immediate ban on the restrictive laws until the lawsuit is settled.
Now may be the only time to file these lawsuits before the new Congress and president-elect take their seats in 2017. President-Elect Donald Trump says he favors both the defunding of Planned Parenthood and a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. He’s even hinted at appointing a justice to the Supreme Court who would be open to overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 SCOTUS decision that established a nationwide right to abortion.
“They lost big at the ballot box, so now they’re looking to the courts to undo the will of state legislatures,” anti-abortion leader Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List told the AP. “They realize the sense of urgency to head to the courts now knowing that the judicial landscape will change under a pro-life President Trump.”
Despite a loss for many pro-choice advocates on election day due to the GOP-sweep of the Congress and POTUS seat, Planned Parenthood plans to continue fighting for a women’s right to choose how, when and under what circumstances to have a family.
According to Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, Planned Parenthood’s chief medical officer, this is the “biggest threat” the organization has seen in its century-long history. “We are going to fight back state by state and law by law until every person has the right to pursue the life they want, including the right to decide to end a pregnancy,” McDonald-Mosley told the AP.