Recent Case Highlights
The Center for Reproductive Rights is litigating dozens of cases in state, national and regional courts against harmful laws that restrict access to abortion and other reproductive rights.
Below are highlights of some of the Center’s current and recent cases.
U.S. Supreme Court to Review Mississippi 15-week Abortion Ban
The Center for Reproductive Rights will return to the U.S. Supreme Court on December 1 to defend the right to abortion, a right recognized in Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision. In the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court will hear Mississippi’s appeal of the decision by the U.S Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that threw out Mississippi’s law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The state of Mississippi, in its opening brief filed in the case on July 22, asked the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. “Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” said Center president and CEO Nancy Northup in statement.
In its response brief filed on September 13, the Center and its co-counsel made clear the consequences of banning abortion—as the reality of Texas’s recent ban already demonstrates. More than 50 “friend of the court” briefs were submitted to the Supreme Court on September 30 in support of the Center’s case, representing nearly ten thousand individuals, hundreds of organizations, and over a thousand government officials.
This case marks the first time the Court will rule on the constitutionality of a pre-viability abortion ban since Roe. Mississippi enacted its abortion ban in direct defiance of Roe and the nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent affirming Roe’s core holding—that every pregnant person has the right to decide whether to continue their pregnancy prior to viability.
- Case background: Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization
- Stakes are High in Upcoming U.S. Supreme Court Case Challenging Mississippi Abortion Ban, 09.13.21
- In Mississippi’s Effort to Take Away Abortion Rights, Disregard for Those Impacted, 08/19/21
- What if Roe is overturned?, 07/27/21
- Press Statement: Mississippi Asks Supreme Court to Overturn Roe, 07/22/21
- Mississippi Abortion Ban Before the U.S. Supreme Court Poses a Direct Challenge to Roe v. Wade, 07/22/21
- Roe at Risk: U.S. Supreme Court to Review Mississippi’s Abortion Ban, a Direct Challenge to Roe v. Wade, 05/17/21
- Supreme Court to Hear Abortion Ban Case Challenging Roe v. Wade, 05/17/21
- Appeals Court Strikes Down Mississippi 15-Week Abortion Ban, 12/13/19
Fighting Texas’s Extreme Abortion Ban
The Center has been challenging Texas law S.B. 8, an extreme law that bans abortion after approximately six weeks of pregnancy, before many people know they’re pregnant. S.B. 8 also incentivizes individuals—including anti-abortion activists—to seek monetary penalties by suing anyone who provides abortion care or assists someone in obtaining care in the state. The Texas law took effect September 1 and has ended most abortion access in the state.
On October 8, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a request from the state of Texas to lift an injunction by a federal district court that temporarily blocked the ban. In the district court ruling— made October 6 in a lawsuit by the Department of Justice—Judge Robert L. Pitman accused Texas of pursuing “an unprecedented and aggressive scheme to deprive its citizens of a significant and well-established constitutional right.”
On September 23, in order to expedite its case challenging the law, Whole Woman’s Health et al. v. Jackson et al., the Center and its partners asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. The case was filed on July 23 and is currently pending at the Fifth Circuit. On September 1, the Supreme Court denied the Center’s emergency request to block the ban, allowing the unconstitutional ban to remain in effect.
The Center also filed a separate lawsuit in district court on October 5, Braid v. Stilley, defending a Texas physician who violated the Texas ban and asking the court to strike the law down as unconstitutional.
- Case background: Whole Woman’s Health et al. v. Jackson et al.
- Texas Abortion Ban in Effect Again After Appeals Court Ruling, 10.08.21
- Texas Abortion Ban Blocked, 10.06.21
- Center Files Lawsuit Defending Doctor Who Violated Texas Abortion Ban, 10.06.21
- Center Again Appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court to Stop Texas Abortion Ban That Has Ended Most Access in the State, 09.23.21
- U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Ends Almost All Abortion Care in Texas, 09.02.21
- Texas Abortion Ban Takes Effect, Ending Almost All Abortion Care in the State, 09.01.21
- Center Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Block Texas Law That Would Prohibit Almost All Abortion Care in the State, 08.30.21
- Center and Partners File Lawsuit to Block Texas Abortion Ban, 07.13.21
- Lawsuit Filed to Stop Texas’ Radical New Abortion Ban, 07.13.21
U.S. Appeals Court Blocks Two Sets of Abortion Bans in Tennessee
On September 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit blocked two sets of Tennessee abortion bans in Memphis Center for Reproductive Health v. Slatery: one set bans abortion at different points in pregnancy starting at approximately six weeks of pregnancy, and another prohibits abortion based on certain reasons, including a diagnosis of Down syndrome or the potential for such a diagnosis (the “reason bans”). Although a district court had blocked both sets of bans, a panel of the Sixth Circuit had let the reason bans go into effect, while the gestational age bans remained blocked. This decision affirms the district court’s block on both sets of bans.
“Today is a huge win for pregnant people in Tennessee,” said Rabia Muqaddam, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights.“These bans would dangerously prevent patients from getting care, and politicians should not get to decide what is an acceptable reason for seeking an abortion.”
Tennessee has many additional abortion restrictions on the books, including a ban on obtaining medication abortion via telehealth, limits on insurance coverage for abortion services, and a requirement that minors obtain parental consent. In August 2020, the Center, along with the ACLU, the ACLU of Tennessee, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, filed a case challenging a law that would erode trust between doctors and patients by mandating that doctors lie about the unproven potential to “reverse” medication abortion——this law is currently enjoined.
Lawsuit Seeks to Block Oklahoma’s New Abortion Bans and Restrictions
The Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners filed a lawsuit in state court on September 2 to block five extreme Oklahoma state laws that ban and restrict abortion care. The measures, scheduled to take effect on November 1, would ban abortion entirely by suspending doctors’ licenses, ban abortion care as early as six weeks, bar family medicine doctors and others from providing abortion care, and severely restrict medication abortion. On October 4, a state court judge blocked two of the abortion bans, but denied the request for the temporary injunction on several of the restrictions.
- Court Refuses to Block New Abortion Restrictions in Oklahoma, 10.06.21
- Lawsuit Seeks to Block Oklahoma’s New Abortion Bans and Restrictions, 09.02.21
- Case background: Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice et al. v. O’Connor, et al.
Center and Partners Sue to Stop New Arizona Abortion Restrictions
The Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners filed a lawsuit on August 17, 2021, challenging two Arizona abortion restrictions. One would ban abortion if there is any indication that the patient’s reason is a fetal diagnosis; the other would grant “personhood” rights to fetuses, embryos, and fertilized eggs in a manner that threatens to criminalize essential medical care for pregnant patients and other actions by pregnant people. “Politicians should not get to decide what an acceptable reason is for seeking an abortion,” said Emily Nestler, Senior Counsel at the Center. “This law is an affront to our constitutional rights and our ability to make private decisions free from government intrusion.”
The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Arizona, aims to secure a preliminary injunction before the measures take effect on September 29, 2021.
- Case background: Isaacson, et al. v. Brnovich, et al.
- Center and Partners Sue to Stop New Arizona Abortion Restrictions, 08/17/21
- Press release: Medical Experts and Civil Rights Groups File Lawsuit to Block New Arizona Abortion Ban, 08/17/21
Texas Ban on Abortion Procedure Upheld, Defying Precedent
This case involves a challenge by the Center and its partner of a Texas ban on the standard procedure for abortion care after about 14-15 weeks. In October 2020 a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling permanently striking down the law as unconstitutional after a trial on the merits. The full Circuit Court then took the unusual step of deciding on its own to vacate the panel decision and rehear the case in front of the full court in January 2021.
In August 2021, the full Circuit Court upheld the Texas ban—becoming the first federal court in the U.S. to uphold such a ban. “At a time when the health care needs of Texans are greater than ever, the state should be making abortion more accessible, not less,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center. “There is no question that today’s decision will harm those who already face the greatest barriers to health care. We are analyzing this decision and will consider all of our legal options.”
- Court Allows Texas to Ban Standard Abortion Procedure, Defying Long-Established Precedent, 8/18/21
- Texas Ban on Standard Abortion Procedure Struck Down; Would Have Interfered with Doctors’ Judgment, 10/14/20
- Case background: Whole Woman’s Health v. Paxton
Chile Agrees to End Forced Sterilization Practices
In a case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) the government of Chile announced on August 2, 2021, that it has entered into a “friendly settlement” with an HIV-positive woman who was forcibly sterilized at a Chilean hospital. Chile will provide the woman with reparations and reform its policies to protect against forced sterilization and discrimination for people living with HIV.
The case was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Vivo Positivo at the IACHR in 2009 after an earlier criminal complaint was dismissed by the Chilean justice system. The woman, known as “Francisca,” gave birth in 2002 to a healthy baby boy and was then sterilized without her consent since the doctors thought it was irresponsible for an HIV-positive woman to have more children. “All women, regardless of their HIV status, should be free to make their own decisions about whether or not they want to have children and what is best for their own health and life,” said Catalina Martinez Coral, the Center’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.
- Chile Agrees to End Forced Sterilization Practices and Provide Reparations in Case at the IACHR, 08.03.21
- Chile Accepts Responsibility Before the IACHR for Forced Sterilization and Will Take Measures to End the Practice, 08.03.21
Appeals Court Upholds Tennessee’s 48-hour Mandatory Waiting Period
On August 5, 2021, the full Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court decision striking down a 48-hour mandatory waiting period for abortion care in Tennessee. “Today’s decision completely ignores the trial court’s clear finding that this law imposes extreme burdens on Tennesseans seeking abortion,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “With this law, politicians are purporting they know better than patients when it comes to making personal decisions about their health care. It’s demeaning and medically unnecessary.”
In April 2021, Circuit Court had allowed the Tennessee law to take effect when it granted the state’s request to suspend a lower court’s decision striking it down pending appeal. Oral arguments were held June 2, 2021.
The Tennessee law requires patients to make two trips to a provider and wait at least two days to access abortion services after receiving in-person, state-mandated biased counseling. In striking down the law in October 2020, Federal District Court Judge Bernard Friedman wrote, “Defendants’ suggestion that women are overly emotional and must be required to cool off or calm down before having a medical procedure they have decided they want to have, and that they are constitutionally entitled to have, is highly insulting and paternalistic – and all the more so given that no such waiting periods apply to men.”
- Appeals Court Upholds ‘Highly Insulting and Paternalistic’ Tennessee Abortion Law, 08/05/21
- Appeals Court Reinstates Forced Waiting Period for Abortion in Tennessee, 04/23/21
- Tennessee’s Mandatory Waiting Period for Abortion: “Highly Insulting and Paternalistic,” 10/27/20
- Federal Court Strikes Down Tennessee’s Forced Waiting Period for Abortions, 10/14/20
Appeals Court Affirms Decision Striking Down North Carolina Abortion Ban
On June 16, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision striking down to strike down a North Carolina abortion ban, rejecting the state’s claims that abortion providers did not have standing to challenge the law. The law banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in extremely narrow instances of medical emergency. “This ruling is a victory for all North Carolinians and is in line with decades of Supreme Court precedent,” said Genevieve Scott, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights.
- Appeals Court Affirms Decision Striking Down Unconstitutional Abortion Ban, 06/16/21
- Case background: Bryant, et al. vs. Woodall, et al.
Kansas Abortion Method Ban Blocked
In April 2021, a state court permanently blocked a Kansas ban on the standard method of abortion after 14 to 15 weeks of pregnancy, reaffirming a 2019 ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court establishing that the right to abortion is protected by the Kansas Constitution, independently of the protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution. The 2021 ruling is the final decision on the merits of the case, upholding the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling that “the right to personal autonomy is firmly embedded” within the state’s “natural rights guarantee and its included concepts of liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
- Kansas Court Strikes Down Abortion Method Ban, Reaffirming Right to Abortion Under State Constitution, 04/12/21
- Kansas Ban on Standard Abortion Method Struck Down as Unconstitutional, 04/07/21
- Kansas Supreme Court Says State Constitution Protects Abortion, 05/02/19
- Case background: Hodes & Nauser MDs, P.A., et al. v. Schmidt & Howe
Inter-American Court of Human Rights Hears Case of Salvadoran Woman Unjustly Imprisoned
The Center for Reproductive Rights and its local partner in El Salvador presented oral arguments before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in March 2021 in Manuela v. El Salvador. The case centers around a Salvadoran woman, Manuela, who was unjustly sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide after suffering an obstetric emergency that resulted in her pregnancy loss. Manuela died imprisoned two years later after receiving inadequate medical diagnosis and treatment for cancer. In this case, the Court will have the opportunity to recognize how El Salvador’s absolute denial and criminalization of reproductive health services discriminates against and causes violence against women who suffer obstetric emergencies, denying them due process.
- Inter-American Court of Human Rights Hears Case of Salvadoran Woman Imprisoned After Obstetric Emergency, 3/10/21
- Center to Argue at Inter-American Court of Human Rights for Salvadoran Woman Imprisoned After Suffering Obstetric Emergency, 03/04/21
- Case background: Manuela v. El Salvador (Inter-American Court of Human Rights)
South Carolina Six-week Abortion Ban Blocked
In March 2021, a federal district court granted a preliminary injunction blocking South Carolina’s six-week ban on abortion. In this case, the Center for Reproductive Rights and its joined partners are challenging the ban as unconstitutional and a violation of almost 50 years of Supreme Court precedent. “There’s no way around it: Banning abortion before viability is blatantly unconstitutional, and we are relieved this law remains blocked,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights.
- Center for Reproductive Rights Blocks South Carolina Abortion Ban as Litigation Continues, 03/19/21
- Federal Court Blocks South Carolina’s Unconstitutional Ban on Abortion, 02/19/21
- Case documents
Arkansas: Four Anti-Abortion Laws Blocked
In this case, Frederick W. Hopkins, M.D., M.P.H. v. Larry Jegley, et al., the Center and the ACLU are challenging four Arkansas anti-abortion laws enacted in 2017, including a ban on the standard procedure for abortions after about 14-15 weeks. In January 2021, the Eastern District Court of Arkansas granted a preliminary injunction that blocks the laws while the case proceeds. “Today’s decision brings welcome, but temporary, relief to those seeking time-sensitive and essential abortion care in Arkansas,” said Jenny Ma, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights.
- ACLU and Center for Reproductive Rights Win in Federal Court, Blocking Four Anti-Abortion Laws in Arkansas, 01/05/21
- Case background: Frederick W. Hopkins, M.D., M.P.H. v. Larry Jegley, et al.
Ecuador Issues Apology in Adolescent Abuse Case
In compliance with a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that held Ecuador responsible for failing to protect Paola Guzmán Albarracín from abuse at her school, Ecuador President Lenín Moreno issued a public apology to Paola’s family in December 2020. The wide-reaching ruling in the case, Paola Guzmán Albarracín v. Ecuador, issued in August 2020, set standards to protect schoolgirls from sexual violence throughout the Latin American region.
- Ecuador’s President Issues Public Apology for Teenager’s Death in Landmark Sexual Violence Case, 12/09/20
- Landmark Ruling Will Help Protect Schoolgirls from Sexual Violence Throughout Latin America, 08/17/20
- Case background: Paola Guzmán Albarracín v. Ecuador: Inter-American Court of Human Rights
- Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights – Latin America and the Caribbean – Inter-American Court of Human Rights
IACHR Hears Case of Salvadoran Women Unjustly Imprisoned
The Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners appeared before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in December and urged it to recommend that El Salvador free 12 women unjustly imprisoned in unsafe conditions and at risk for COVID-19. Arrested for incidents related to obstetric emergencies during their pregnancies, the women were unjustly accused of illegal abortions and convicted of aggravated homicide or attempted homicide. Abortion is illegal in El Salvador under all circumstances—even in cases of rape or incest or to save a woman’s life.
- Center Appeals to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for Release of Unjustly Imprisoned Salvadoran Women, 12/08/20
- Abortion – Latin America and the Caribbean – Inter-American Human Rights System
Tennessee Medication Abortion “Reversal” Law Blocked
The Center and its partners have sued to block a Tennessee law requiring doctors to lie to patients by telling them that medication abortions can be “reversed.” Such a “reversal” claim is unproven, politically motivated, and without basis in medical research. A temporary restraining order was granted in September 2020, and a preliminary injunction granted in February 2021.
- Tennessee’s Medically Unsound ‘Abortion Reversal’ Law Remains Blocked By Federal Courts, 02/26/21
- Center and Partners Challenge Tennessee Medication Abortion “Reversal” Law, 09-03-20
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