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 updates on some of the Center’s current and recent cases.
Center Sues Texas on Behalf of Pregnant Woman Seeking an Emergency Abortion
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a case in Texas state court December 5 on behalf of a pregnant woman seeking an emergency abortion to protect her health, life, and future fertility. The plaintiff is asking the court to temporarily block the state’s abortion bans so she can obtain urgent abortion care and avoid the dangerous risks of being forced to stay pregnant. Just last week, the plaintiff received confirmation that her pregnancy had Trisomy 18 and had no chance of survival. She was warned by her OB-GYN and MFN specialist that continuing to carry the pregnancy to term could jeopardize her health and future fertility.
Center Argues “Medical Exceptions” Case at the Texas Supreme Court
On November 28, the Center argued at the Texas Supreme Court to urge the court to uphold an injunction issued in August by a Texas district judge that the state’s abortion bans as they apply to patients with dangerous pregnancy complications. The ruling, which was appealed by Texas, also clarified that doctors can use their good-faith medical judgment to determine when to provide abortion care in those situations. The case, Zurawski v. State of Texas, was brought on behalf of Texas physicians and women denied abortion care despite facing dangerous pregnancy complications.
Kansas State Court Blocks Abortion Restrictions
Although Kansas voters overwhelmingly rejected efforts to eliminate the fundamental right to abortion from the state constitution in 2022, state lawmakers enacted several onerous, harmful abortion restrictions that diminished access to care. On October 30, 2023, a Kansas state court judge blocked those restrictions, which were challenged by the Center and its partners in a lawsuit brought in June on behalf of Kansas abortion providers. The case argued that the restrictions violated the state constitution, including the rights to abortion and free speech.
Georgia Supreme Court Allows Six-Week Abortion Ban to Remain in Effect
On October 24, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled to allow the state’s law banning abortion after approximately six weeks of pregnancy to remain in effect, reversing a lower court decision that struck down the law.
The lower court had ruled that since the Georgia Constitution prohibits the legislature from passing laws that violate either the state or federal constitution, the abortion ban was void since it violated Roe v. Wade when it was enacted in 2019.
The case, SisterSong v. Georgia, will return to the trial court, which has not yet ruled on the remaining claims brought by the plaintiffs that the ban violates Georgians’ rights to privacy and equal protection under the state Constitution.
Court Blocks Montana Clinic Licensing Law
On September 27, a court blocked a Montana law challenged by the Center that requires abortion clinics to be licensed and the state to issue regulations detailing licensure requirements. Although the law was set to take effect October 1, in the three months since the law was enacted, the state has yet to even propose regulations, making it impossible for clinics to comply by the effective date.
Kenyan Court Exonerates Mother and Health Care Provider From Abortion Charges
After a five-year court battle, a health care provider and the mother of an adolescent girl—represented by the Center and the Reproductive Health Network of Kenya (RHNK)—were cleared of charges of procuring an abortion by a court in Makadara, Kenya. The September 25 dismissal of the case, Republic v. Samson Mwita & Grace Wanjiku, aligns with earlier court rulings in Kenya declaring that it is illegal to arrest and prosecute abortion patients and providers, and it sends a clear message affirming abortion as a health care right.
Another Challenge to South Carolina Abortion Ban
The Center and its partners, on behalf of abortion providers in the state, filed a new challenge to South Carolina’s six-week abortion ban. The lawsuit, filed September 14, 2023, asks the South Carolina Supreme Court to resolve ambiguity raised in its August decision that upheld the ban.
“Medical Emergency” Exceptions Complaints Filed in Three More States
Expanding its work on behalf of patients denied abortion care despite severe and dangerous pregnancy complications, on September 12, 2023, the Center filed complaints in Idaho, Tennessee and Oklahoma. The complaints seek to ensure that pregnant people in such dire situations can access abortion care and that doctors have clarity on “medical emergency” exceptions in their state’s abortion bans.
DOJ Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Review Circuit Court Ruling on Abortion Medication
On September 8, 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a writ of certiori to the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to review the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals August ruling to reinstate burdensome pre-2016 restrictions on the abortion medication mifepristone. The ruling in Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA—a lawsuit filed by anti-abortion advocates to challenge the FDA’s approval of mifepristone—upheld part of a decision by a federal court in Texas. Because of an order issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in April, the Fifth Circuit’s ruling did not take effect, and mifepristone will remain available under current regulations while litigation continues.
South Carolina Supreme Court Upholds Abortion Ban Almost Identical to One it Threw Out in January
After the makeup of the court changed, the South Carolina Supreme Court on August 23, 2023, upheld a law banning abortion at approximately six weeks of pregnancy. The ban is almost identical to the one it struck down in January and the ruling that will devastate abortion access in the state and throughout the region.
Court Denies Center’s Request to Ensure Access to Abortion Drug in Three States
On August 21, 2023, a federal court in Virginia denied the Center’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have protected access to the abortion pill mifepristone in Virginia, Montana, and Kansas. The Center filed the request in Whole Woman’s Health Alliance v. FDA (WWH v. FDA) in May seeking to buttress the current access to mifepristone in line with a decision issued by a Washington court applicable to 17 states and D.C. In its ruling in WWH v. FDA, the court acknowledged the safety and importance of mifepristone, and the case will proceed in the trial court.
Access to mifepristone is threatened by an April 7 ruling by a Texas federal court in a separate case, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, that attempted to block the FDA’s long-standing approval of the drug. The ruling in WWH v. FDA came days after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld in large part the Texas court’s ruling. (The Fifth Circuit ruling has not taken effect due to a U.S. Supreme Court stay, and the Government has asserted that it will appeal.)
Texas Ruling to Allow Abortions for Severe Pregnancy Complications is Blocked While Appeals Proceed
In a ruling August 4 on Zurawski v. State of Texas, a Texas district judge issued an injunction blocking Texas’s abortion bans as they apply to dangerous pregnancy complications, clarifying that doctors can use their own medical judgment to determine when to provide abortion care in emergency situations. The ruling also denied the state’s request to throw out the case, and it found S.B. 8—Texas’s citizen-enforced abortion ban—unconstitutional. The judge recognized in her ruling that the women who brought this case should have been given abortions.
The state immediately appealed the ruling directly to the Texas Supreme Court, putting the injunction on hold while appeals proceed. The Texas Supreme Court has set oral argument for November 28.
Hearing in Zurawski v. State of Texas
A Texas state court will hear testimony and arguments July 19-20 in Zurawski v. State of Texas, a lawsuit filed by the Center on behalf of Texas women denied abortion care despite facing severe pregnancy complications and risks to their health, fertility and lives.
The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, July 19 and Thursday, July 20 starting at 9 a.m. CT/10:00 a.m. ET at the Travis County Civil & Family Courts Facility in Austin. The Center will hold a press briefing, which will be streamed live on Facebook, immediately after the hearing Wednesday.
Five plaintiffs in the case—four women denied abortions and an OB-GYN—and two experts in obstetrics and emergency medicine are scheduled to testify.
Center Challenges Kansas Restrictions on Abortion Access
Even though abortion is protected as a fundamental right under the Kansas constitution, state lawmakers have singled out abortion providers and patients with medically unnecessary and harmful restrictions to make access to care more difficult. On behalf of Kansas abortion providers, on June 6 the Center and its partner filed a lawsuit in state court challenging several restrictions scheduled to take effect as early as July 1.
The restrictions include measures requiring providers to relay to patients at least five times that a medication abortion can be “reversed”—a false, and potentially dangerous, claim unsupported by scientific evidence; a requirement that patients receive inaccurate state-mandated information, including medically unfounded statements that abortion poses a “risk of premature birth in future pregnancies” and “risk of breast cancer;” and other rules to delay care.
Oklahoma Supreme Court Ruling Affirms Right to Life-Saving Abortion Care
On May 31, 2023, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down two citizen-enforced abortion bans mirroring Texas’ S.B. 8., affirming the court’s recent decision that the state constitution protects the right to abortion in life-threatening situations. The high court confirmed that doctors must be able to use their medical judgement to determine whether to provide an abortion when a patient’s life is at risk. While abortion remains largely unavailable in Oklahoma and the state’s pre-Roe ban remains in effect, the ruling ensures that Oklahoma’s vigilante bans cannot hold doctors back from providing life-saving care.
South Carolina Court Blocks Another Six-week Abortion Ban
On May 26, a state court in South Carolina temporarily blocked the state’s newly enacted ban on abortion after approximately six weeks of pregnancy. The ruling, which granted a preliminar
t injunction against the law, came one day after the lawsuit was filed on behalf of abortion providers. After the ruling, the state filed an emergency request to stay the injunction with the South Carolina Supreme Court. The Court denied that request on June 6, and instead agreed to take up the case.
The lawsuit argues that the ban is unconstitutional under the South Carolina constitution as it violates its guarantees to privacy, equal protection and due process. The filing came just months after a landmark ruling in January in which the South Carolina Supreme Court struck down a nearly identical six-week abortion ban, ruling that it violated South Carolinians’ right to privacy under the state constitution.
More Women Denied Abortion Care Join Case Against Texas
After being denied potentially life-saving obstetric care for their severe and dangerous pregnancy complications, eight additional Texas women joined the Center’s lawsuit against the state on May 22, 2023. In its filings, the Center also requested the court to grant a temporary injunction to Texas’s abortion bans as they apply to pregnancy complications while the case proceeds.
Since Zurawski v. State of Texas was filed in March on behalf of five women denied abortion care and two OB/GYNs, many more women have come forward to tell their stories, bringing the total number of plaintiffs to 15.
Montana Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Prohibiting APRNs from Providing Abortion Care
On May 12, 2023, the Montana Supreme Court permanently struck down a law that prohibited advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) from providing abortion care. In its unanimous decision, the Montana Supreme Court reaffirmed that the state constitution guarantees the right of Montanans to seek abortion care from a qualified healthcare provider of their choice. “Abortions remain one of the safest procedures when performed collectively by health care providers, including APRNs,” the justices wrote. The ruling expands the eligible pool of abortion providers in the state.
Center Files Lawsuit to Ensure Access to Abortion Drug in Three States
On May 8, 2023, the Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of independent abortion providers that seeks to preserve long-term access to the abortion medication mifepristone in Virginia, Montana, and Kansas. The case requests that the court maintain the same degree of access to mifepristone that existed prior to a Texas federal court’s April 7 ruling attempting to block the FDA’s long-standing approval of the drug. In other words, it argues for parallel relief to that granted to the plaintiff states in State of Washington v. FDA, in which a federal district court in Washington ordered the FDA not to make any changes that would restrict access to mifepristone in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
Medicaid Rule Limiting Abortion Access in Montana Is Blocked After Lawsuit by the Center and Partners
A Montana administrative rule that would have effectively eliminated abortion access for most Montanans insured through Medicaid was blocked May 1, 2023, in response to a lawsuit filed April 28 by the Center and its partners. The lawsuit argues that the rule, which introduces restrictive new requirements for Medicaid-eligible Montanans seeking abortion care, violates the Montana Constitution. A Lewis and Clark County District Court judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the rule, which was to be enforced starting May 8.
Oklahoma Supreme Court Rules the Right to Abortion is Protected in Life-Threatening Situations
On March 21, 2023, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution protects the right to abortion in life-threatening situations, but declined to rule whether its constitution protects a broader right to abortion outside of those circumstances. In its ruling in Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice v. Drummond, the court wrote that “the Oklahoma Constitution creates an inherent right of a pregnant woman to terminate a pregnancy when necessary to preserve her life” and struck down one of two total criminal abortion bans. The other ban remains in force, leaving abortion care unavailable for most Oklahomans.
Abortion Remains Legal in North Dakota as Court Blocks Total Ban
On March 16, 2023, the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled that the state’s total abortion ban will remain blocked, allowing abortion care to continue while the case proceeds in a lower court. The ruling came in a case filed in July by the Center and its partners on behalf of abortion providers, which argues that the ban is unconstitutional under the state’s constitution. In its ruling in Wrigley v. Romanick et al., the North Dakota Supreme Court found that the challenge to the ban is likely to succeed.
Center Sues Texas on Behalf of Women Denied Abortions After Facing Dangerous Pregnancy Complications
On March 6, 2023, the Center filed a groundbreaking lawsuit against the state of Texas seeking to clarify the scope of the state’s “medical emergency” exception under its extreme abortion bans. The case was brought on behalf of five Texas women—each denied abortion care after facing severe and dangerous pregnancy complications—and two Texas obstetrician-gynecologists. The case, Zurawski v. State of Texas, is the first lawsuit brought on behalf of women denied abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion and cleared the way for states to ban it entirely.
South Carolina Supreme Court Affirms Abortion as a Protected Privacy Right
On January 5, 2023, the South Carolina Supreme Court agreed with arguments brought by the Center and its partners that a ban on abortion at six weeks violates the state constitution’s guarantee to the right to privacy. The ruling, in Planned Parenthood South Atlantic v. State of South Carolina, et al., permanently blocks the six-week ban, allowing doctors to continue providing abortion care to patients beyond the earliest stages of pregnancy.
Texas Court Rejects Vigilante Lawsuit Against Doctor
On December 8, 2022, a Texas court ruled that a bystander who is not directly impacted by an abortion service provided cannot sue the abortion provider under Texas’ vigilante law, S.B. 8. The ruling came in Gomez v. Braid and sets an important precedent limiting the application of the vigilante law.
Kansas Telemedicine Ban Blocked
On November 23, 2022, a Kansas state court blocked a 2011 law that prohibited doctors from providing medication abortion via telemedicine. The preliminary injunction was issued in a lawsuit filed in 2019 on behalf of Trust Women, which operates a clinic in Wichita.
Georgia Abortion Ban Back in Effect
Just a week after a Superior Court judge blocked Georgia’s six-week abortion ban, the Georgia Supreme Court granted an emergency stay of the injunction, allowing the ban to take effect once again while the state’s appeal continues. The ruling, which came November 23, 2022, forced patients in waiting rooms to be turned away.
Georgia and South Carolina: Challenging Abortion Bans Under State Constitutions
State constitutional protections are the basis of arguments as the Center and its partners challenge state laws in South Carolina and Georgia banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy—and fight for the protection of abortion rights under each state’s constitution. South Carolina’s constitution guarantees the rights to privacy and equal protection under the law; Georgia’s constitution guarantees the right to privacy, liberty, and equal protection. As the Center and its partners argue, abortion rights are protected as fundamental rights under these clauses in the state constitutions. Arguments were held in October 2022.
Lawsuit Seeks to Restore Abortion Access in Arizona by Blocking a Civil War-Era Abortion Ban
The Center and its partners filed a lawsuit October 3, 2022, asking an Arizona court to clarify doctors’ obligations under the state’s multiple overlapping abortion laws, which have forced providers to cease abortion services for fear of criminal prosecution. Filed on behalf of an Arizona abortion provider and the Arizona Medical Association, the suit requests that the court interpret the laws and clarify that under the current laws physicians can provide abortion care through 15 weeks of pregnancy without risk of criminal prosecution for violating a criminal abortion ban tracing back to the Civil War era. On October 25, the State of Arizona announced that it would not enforce Arizona’s pre-Roe ban in any manner until 45 days after the final mandate is issued in a separate case regarding that law. As a result, abortion services will remain legal in Arizona at least until then.
African Committee Recommends Tanzania Reform Policies That Barred Pregnant Girls from School
For years, the Tanzanian government has forced girls in public schools to undergo mandatory pregnancy testing and expelled them permanently if they were pregnant—denying thousands of girls the opportunity to continue their formal education.
On September 15, 2022, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) ruled that the practice of expelling pregnant students from school violated adolescent girls’ human rights and recommended that Tanzania reform its education policies.
The case, Legal and Human Rights Centre and Center for Reproductive Rights v United Republic of Tanzania, was brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Legal and Human Rights Centre of Tanzania (LHRC) in June 2019 on behalf of six adolescent girls who were expelled from school for being pregnant, as well as all girls in Tanzania.
Working to Block State Abortion Bans Post-Roe
Since the U.S. Supreme Court took away the constitutional right to abortion on June 24, 2022, anti-abortion states have rushed to implement abortion bans that were previously unenforceable. The Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners are working to block those state bans from taking effect to preserve access to abortion care.
Lawsuits filed on behalf of abortion providers are challenging state “trigger” laws intended to take effect if the Supreme Court overruled Roe, “pre-Roe” abortion bans that were never repealed, and several other laws banning or severely restricting abortion. “We are seeing the start of a public health crisis that will engulf the nation,” said Nancy Northup, President, and CEO of the Center. “Our immediate priority is to preserve access in every state for as long as we can. Every day and hour that a clinic can stay open is a victory for the patients in the waiting room.”
U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, Taking Away the Constitutional Right to Abortion
On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a devastating ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The ruling took away the constitutional right to abortion, abandoned almost 50 years of precedent, and paved the way for states to ban abortion.
Legal Analysis: What Dobbs Got Wrong, 03.15.23
This case marked the first time the Court ruled on the constitutionality of a pre-viability abortion ban since Roe. Mississippi enacted its abortion ban in direct defiance of Roe v. Wade and decades 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. The Court not only upheld Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban but agreed with the state of Mississippi to overturn Roe v. Wade and rule there is no constitutional right to abortion.
Case background: Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization
Florida 15-Week Abortion Ban Allowed to Take Effect While Case Proceeds
The Center and its partners filed a case June 1, 2022, challenging Florida’s law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Doctors who perform abortions in violation of the law, HB 5, are subject to felony criminal penalties and disciplinary action, including loss of licensure. The case argues that the ban violates the state’s constitution, which contains an explicit privacy clause that protects individuals’ right to privacy, including abortion. On August 10, Florida abortion providers appealed to the Florida Supreme Court to review the challenge. The state had appealed a lower court ruling blocking the ban on July 5, triggering an automatic stay of the injunction, which allowed the ban to take effect.
Read more about the case here: Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, et al. v. State Of Florida, et al.
Oklahoma Abortion Bans Challenged
The Center and its partners filed a lawsuit in the Oklahoma Supreme Court on July 1, 2022, seeking to block the state’s pre-Roe abortion ban, enacted in 1910, and a total abortion ban slated to take effect in August. The lawsuit asserts that the criminal abortion bans violate Oklahomans’ state constitutional rights to personal and bodily autonomy, health, and substantive due process.
In another case, on May 26, the Center and its partners filed a challenge to Oklahoma’s total abortion ban, H.B. 4327. The Texas-style ban, designed to be enforced by private citizens, took effect immediately after Governor Kevin Stitt signed it, making Oklahoma the first state to ban abortion entirely while Roe v. Wade still stood. The challenge to H.B. 4327 was added to a case challenging another abortion ban, Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice et al v. State of Oklahoma.
Read more about the filings here:
Litigation to Decriminalize Abortion in Nepal
With technical support from the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Forum for Women Law and Development (FWLD) filed a case at the Supreme Court of Nepal on February 3, 2022, demanding that the government fully decriminalize abortion in accordance with constitutional guarantees and United Nations recommendations. Despite making several commitments to abortion rights and access, Nepal still categorizes abortion as a crime in its penal code, presenting obstacles for both women and health care providers. On April 15, 2022, the Constitutional Bench of Supreme Court of Nepal issued a show cause order on the petition, directing the Government of Nepal to file its written response to the Court.
Read more about the filing here: New Litigation Filed to Decriminalize Abortion in Nepal
Kenyan High Court Affirms the Constitutional Right to Abortion
In a victory for Kenyan women, girls, and health care providers, in March 2022 the High Court of Kenya in Malindi affirmed that abortion care is a fundamental right under Kenya’s 2010 Constitution and that arbitrary arrests and prosecution of patients and health care providers for seeking or offering abortion services are illegal. The Court also directed the Kenyan parliament to enact an abortion law and public policy framework that aligns with the Constitution. The ruling came in a case—brought in 2020 by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK)—involving the right of a minor to receive reproductive care, the right of a clinician to treat her, and the obligations of Kenya under its Constitution.
Colombia’s Highest Court Rules to Decriminalize Abortion
The Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled on February 22, 2022, to decriminalize abortion up to 24 weeks of gestation. Prior to the ruling, abortion in Colombia was a crime with only narrow exceptions. With this ruling, Colombia is now the eighth country in Latin America and the Caribbean to decriminalize abortion during initial stages of pregnancy and the first to have a model legalizing abortion up to 24 weeks. The case was brought in 2020 by the Causa Justa Movement, of which the Center is a member, and sought to eliminate abortion as a crime, reduce barriers to legal abortion care, and end the risk of criminal prosecution of women and girls seeking abortion care and of health care workers providing care.
Appeals Court Upholds Injunction Against South Carolina Abortion Ban
South Carolina’s six-week abortion ban remains blocked after a ruling on February 22, 2022, by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upholding a district court decision to temporarily enjoin the law. If allowed to take effect, the ban would have ended most abortion care in the state.
The ruling outlined how the law banned abortion “at a time when many women do not yet know that they are pregnant and cannot even exercise what minimal right the Act affords them to secure an abortion—which is precisely the effect the Act is intended to have.” The court also echoed the district court’s conclusion that “[t]his case does not present a close call.”
Pakistan Court Recognizes Widespread Incidence of Obstetric Fistula Violates Women’s Rights
This was the first case filed in Pakistan that sought recognition that the widespread incidence of obstetric fistula—an easily preventable condition—was a violation of women’s fundamental rights to dignity and life under the Pakistan Constitution.
As a result of this case, women in the Sindh Province of Pakistan now have access to obstetric fistula repair services in government hospitals. On December 15, 2021, the Sindh High Court issued its final court order in the petition on obstetric fistula after the government of Sindh reported that it had made significant progress staffing government hospitals with gynecologists and establishing fistula repair centers that provide fistula repair surgeries free of cost.
Obstetric fistula is a hole that develops between the birth canal and the rectum or bladder that leads to continuous, uncontrollable flow of urine, feces or both. The primary cause is obstructed labor that is not properly addressed through timely emergency obstetric care. Since women from low-income backgrounds in Pakistan often give birth without trained birth attendants and without access to medical facilities, they face increased risks of developing obstetric fistula.
Case background: Syed & Others v. Province of Sindh & Another
Ruling in Manuela v. El Salvador Will Help Protect Women Seeking Reproductive Health Care
In a landmark ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Court for the first time established standards throughout the region to help protect women seeking reproductive health care, including abortion.
The ruling by the Court—which is the highest judicial body for human rights in the Americas—came on November 30, 2021, in Manuela v. El Salvador. In a ruling that applies to countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean under the Court’s jurisdiction, health care staff can no longer refer women to law enforcement who come to the hospital seeking abortion care and other reproductive health services.
The Court also deemed El Salvador responsible for the death of a Salvadoran woman, Manuela, who in 2008 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 from cancer after receiving inadequate medical diagnosis and treatment.
The case was brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners in El Salvador, the Colectiva Feminista para el Desarrollo Local and the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto.