Planned Parenthood Challenges Abortion Restrictions in Three States

By DAN MCCUE

(CN) – Planned Parenthood and its allies filed simultaneous challenges to abortion restrictions in three states on Wednesday, arguing the medically unnecessary prohibitions in their laws unconstitutionally infringe on a woman’s right to end her pregnancy.

The lawsuits were filed in North Carolina, Missouri, and Alaska. Joining Planned Parenthood as plaintiffs are the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for reproductive Rights.

“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,” said Planned Parenthood’s chief medical officer, Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, in a statement on the organization’s website.

Attorneys for the plaintiff organizations said during a telephone news conference Wednesday that the lawsuits are a follow-up to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which struck down two Texas laws that it found set impossible-to-meet standards for clinics to operate in the state.

Whole Woman’s Health led the legal challenge to the law, House Bill 2, which specified abortions must be performed in hospital-style surgical centers and can only be performed by doctors with admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles.

With few abortion providers able to meet the new regulations, the Supreme Court blocked Texas from implementing the law pending its review.

In June it found the law unconstitutional.

“We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority. “Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a pre-viability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution.”

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan concurred in the 40-page majority holding.

The restrictions being challenged in Missouri are similar to those that the high court struck down in Texas.

They require abortion clinics to meet physical standards for surgical centers and mandate that their doctors have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Partly as a result of those laws, only one licensed abortion clinic remains in operation in Missouri.

To reach that clinic in St. Louis, some women must drive more than 300 miles, Planned Parenthood officials said.

The North Carolina law being challenged prevents doctors from performing abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy with a narrow exception for immediate medical emergencies.

The plaintiff organizations say this ban forces doctors caring for a woman with a high-risk pregnancy to delay necessary care until her condition imposes an immediate threat of death or major medical damage.

“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,” said Irena Como, staff attorney for the ACLU of North Carolina.

The lawsuit in Alaska aims to overturn a 40-year-old ban on abortions in outpatient health centers after the first trimester of pregnancy.

The plaintiffs say this forces many women to make lengthy out-of-state trips for second-trimester procedures.

Planned Parenthood says it sends about 30 women out of state each year to get abortions.

The lawsuits come as supporters of abortion rights brace for a dramatic surge in anti-abortion efforts at the state and federal level in the wake of sweeping Republican victories on Election Day.

The Republican-controlled Congress is expected to seek a halt to federal funding of Planned Parenthood and also to ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

President-elect Donald Trump has said he favors both measures, and throughout his campaign, he also promised to fill Supreme Court vacancies with justices who would consider overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a nationwide right to abortion.

On Tuesday, Trump nominated Rep. Tom Price, of Georgia to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Price is a longtime foe of abortion and critic of Planned Parenthood.

At the state level, lawmakers in several Republican-controlled legislatures are planning to propose new abortion restrictions in sessions that convene in January.