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.
Kansas Abortion Method Ban
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.”
Case background: Hodes & Nauser MDs, P.A., et al. v. Schmidt & Howe
Tennessee 48-hour Waiting Period
In April 2021, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Tennessee’s 48-hour mandatory waiting period to take effect immediately, granting the state’s request to suspend a lower court’s decision striking it down pending appeal. The 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.”
Mississippi 15-week Abortion Ban
“In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed, and reaffirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion prior to viability.”
The Center is waiting to hear whether the U.S. Supreme Court will grant Mississippi’s petition to review a lower court ruling that struck down the state’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The case is a direct challenge to the landmark Roe v. Wade, which held that the Constitution guarantees each person the right to decide whether to continue a pregnancy or access an abortion. The Center filed the case, Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Dobbs, on behalf of the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi and its patients. Writing for the three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals striking down the ban, Judge Patrick Higginbotham said: “In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed, and reaffirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion prior to viability.”
Appeals Court Strikes Down Mississippi 15-Week Abortion Ban, 12/13/19
Case background: Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Dobbs
El Salvador: Woman Unjustly Imprisoned for Obstetric Emergency
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.
South Carolina Six-week Abortion Ban
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.
Arkansas: Four Anti-Abortion Laws
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.
Case background: Frederick W. Hopkins, M.D., M.P.H. v. Larry Jegley, et al.
Ecuador: Apology in Adolescent Abuse Case
In compliance with a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) 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.
El Salvador: Women Unjustly Imprisoned
The Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners appeared before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 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.
Tennessee Medication Abortion “Reversal” Law
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.
Texas Ban on Standard Abortion Procedure
In Whole Woman’s Health v. Paxton, the Center is challenging a Texas ban on the standard procedure for abortion care after about 14-15 weeks. A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision that permanently struck down the law as unconstitutional after a trial on the merits; but in an unusual move, in October the full Circuit Court granted, on its own motion, a rehearing by the full Court. Oral argument was held before the Fifth Circuit in January 2021.
Case background: Whole Woman’s Health v. Paxton
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