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.
Center and Partners Sue Oklahoma Over Two New Abortion Bans
The Center and its partners on April 28 filed challenges in state court to two Oklahoma abortion bans that would further devastate access to care in the region. The laws challenged are S.B. 612, passed earlier this month and due to take effect in August, which bans all abortion care except in narrowly defined medical emergencies and makes abortion a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine. The other measure, S.B. 1503, passed April 28 by the legislature and effective immediately once signed by the governor, copycats Texas’s vigilante law banning abortion at approximately six weeks of pregnancy. Texans have rushed to Oklahoma and other neighboring states to seek abortion care since the Texas ban took effect in September 2021.
Read more about the filings here: Center and Partners Sue Oklahoma Over Abortion Bans That Would Further Devastate Access in the Region
Center Awaits Ruling from U.S. Supreme Court in Mississippi Abortion Ban Case
The Center is awaiting a ruling by U.S. Supreme Court in this consequential abortion rights case. It argued its case 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 heard 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 has asked the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and rule there is no constitutional right to abortion.
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
Kenyan High Court Affirms the Constitutional Right to Abortion (2022)
In a victory for Kenyan women, girls, and health care providers, 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. Read more about the ruling here.
Colombia’s Highest Court Rules to Decriminalize Abortion (2022)
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 for Reproductive Rights 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. Read more about the ruling here.
Appeals Court Upholds Injunction Against South Carolina Abortion Ban
South Carolina’s six-week abortion ban remains blocked after a ruling 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 February 22, 2022, 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.” Read more about the ruling here.
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 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.
U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Block Texas Abortion Ban and Vigilante Scheme
In a ruling on December 10, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block Texas’s unconstitutional abortion ban and vigilante scheme that has denied Texans their constitutional right to abortion and ended most abortion access in the state.
“The Supreme Court has ruled that federal courts are powerless to protect constitutional rights in the face of a devious state scheme that hands over state enforcement power to private citizens,” says Marc Hearron, Senior Counsel of the Center for Reproductive Rights, who argued the case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson. “The Court has effectively endorsed Texas’s efforts to subvert the U.S. Constitution.”
In a 5-4 decision, the Court dismissed the most significant part of the Center’s case, ruling that the providers could not bring suit against the classes of state judges and clerks or the state Attorney General. While the Court allowed a narrow portion of the case to proceed in federal court against the Texas Medical Board and other licensing authorities, an injunction against those officials would not block Texas’s vigilante scheme.
The Texas law, S.B. 8, bans abortion after approximately six weeks of pregnancy and incentivizes individuals—including anti-abortion activists—to bring costly and harassing lawsuits against anyone who provides abortion care or assists someone in obtaining an abortion in violation of the ban.
Read more about the case and the Center’s continuing efforts to challenge the law: Whole Woman’s Health et al. v. Jackson et al.
Oklahoma Abortion Bans and Restrictions Blocked
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. On October 25, the Oklahoma State Supreme Court blocked three of the abortion restrictions that were scheduled to take effect. The ruling means all five laws challenged in the case will remain blocked while the case continues.
Case background: Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice et al. v. O’Connor, et al.
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.
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. On September 28, a federal district court judge blocked the provision that would ban abortions sought due to the presence or presumed presence of a fetal condition.
Case background: Isaacson, et al. v. Brnovich, et al.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.” On May 7, the State filed an appeal with the Kansas Supreme Court, then on October 21 filed a motion to stay the case until August 2022, after voting takes place on a ballot initiative to amend the Kansas Constitution.
Case background: Hodes & Nauser MDs, P.A., et al. v. Schmidt & Howe
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.
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.
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.
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.
To search for more case news and developments, click here.
Search the Center’s case archive here.