Tag Archive: Supreme Court

Restrictive Abortion Law in Kansas

Kansas is set to enact one of the most restrictive and sweeping anti-abortion laws in the country. The Kansas bill states that life begins at fertilization and imposes a number of new abortion regulations. Specifically, the bill prohibits employees of abortion clinics such as Planned Parenthood from providing sex education in schools; bans tax credits for abortion services; requires health care clinics to give details to women about fetal development and abortion health risks; and bans abortions based solely on the gender of the fetus.

Despite the controversy surrounding the bill, the Kansas House voted ninety to thirty for the bill; hours earlier, the state Senate approved the bill by twenty-eight to ten. Governor Sam Brownback is a strong anti-abortion leader and he is widely expected to sign the bill into law within the next few days. The new restrictions will go into effect on July 1, 2013. Critics of the bill argue that it will be harmful to women. For instance, Kansas Senator David Haley, a Democrat who opposed the bill, argues that advocates of the bill were pursuing a “Taliban-like” course by letting religious views dominate the debate; he further argues that the law would limit women’s ability to make decisions about health care and reproduction decisions. Haley also contends that some health care providers might interpret the provision specifying that life begins at fertilization as a ban on birth control.

In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), the United States Supreme Court held that regulations that place a substantial burden on a woman’s right to have an abortion are unconstitutional. According to the Kansas City Star editorial board, the Kansas bill is one of the most punitive abortion bills in the country because the bill (1) places additional financial hardships on women; (2) forces doctors to disseminate misleading information; (3) puts schools in a difficult legal position; (4) denies tax breaks to any health care facility affiliated with abortion services; (4) forces physicians to consider a patient’s motives for seeking an abortion due to the gender-specific abortion provision; and (5) the bill is intended to “harass abortion providers, patients and other entitles, like schools, which are caught in the middle.” For these reasons, the Kansas bill would likely be deemed an undue burden on abortion rights.

The Kansas anti-abortion law highlights the growing trend of states either enacting or considering anti-abortion legislation. According to the Guttmacher Institute, there was not a single significant measure adopted by any state to expand access to abortion in 2012. The Guttmacher report notes that nineteen states adopted forty-three new provisions restricting abortion access in 2012. This trend has unmistakably continued in 2013. In recent months, Arkansas legislators enacted a ban on abortions after the twelfth week of pregnancy and lawmakers in North Dakota enacted an anti-abortion law that sets the limit at six weeks.

Equality House: Westboro Baptist and Its New Neighbor

Based in Topeka, Kansas, Westboro Baptist Church has recently been brought back into the public spotlight for something other than protesting deceased military personnel funerals.  A non-profit supporting gay rights, Planting Peace, purchased a home across the street from the often-hated church and painted it rainbow colors which serves as a symbol for the support of gay rights protected by the First Amendment as freedom of expression. The house purchased across the street from Westboro is named the “Equality House.”

Westboro Baptist Church has been in the practice of gathering for anti-gay protests at the funerals of American military heroes since 1991. In 2011, the Supreme Court was faced with the question of whether or not the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protected the church in their protests. The Court in a 8-1 holding, determined that the First Amendment did protect the church and stated, “Freedom of speech is so central to the nation that it protects cruel and unpopular protests – even, in this case, at the moment of a family’s most profound grief.”

Although Westboro’s protests are protected by the First Amendment, many including Planting Peace, want to combat these messages of hate projected by members of Westboro Baptist with their own form of expression secured by the First Amendment. Aaron Jackson and his non-profit are attempting to spread the message of equality and compassion with a goal of “promoting equality.”

Members of Westboro have responded to the Equality House with statements such as, “We thank God for the sodomite rainbow house…It is right across the street from the only church that loves people enough to tell them the Bible truth about the filthy, soul-damning, Nation destroying sin of sodomy.” Jackson believes that the energy being put into Westboro’s beliefs and the attention they receive will be used and turned into something positive for the through the Equality House for the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community.

Former President Clinton, the DOMA, and the Future of Gay Marriage

On March 7, 2013, former President Bill Clinton wrote an editorial in The Washington Post arguing that the Supreme Court should overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In 1996, both houses of Congress passed the DOMA by large bipartisan majorities. President Clinton signed the Act mainly to neutralize a political movement in favor of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Specifically, the DOMA defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman for all federal purposes and relieves states from recognizing any such union though recognized by another state. Even though the DOMA is still on the books, President Obama has told the Justice Department not to enforce it. Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. However, same-sex couples across the country are denied federal benefits and programs because their relationships are not recognized under the DOMA.

The DOMA will come before the Supreme Court on March 27. The purpose of Clinton’s editorial is to explain why the Court should overturn the law. In the editorial, Clinton notes that he has come to believe that the DOMA is contrary to the principles of freedom, equality, and justice, and that the law is “incompatible with our Constitution.” Interestingly, this is the second time Clinton has disavowed a landmark anti-gay legislative measure that he signed into law.  In 2010, Clinton stated publicly that he regretted signing the controversial “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, a federal law mandating the discharge of any U.S. armed service member who was openly lesbian, gay, or bisexual. DADT was repealed in 2011.

Despite Clinton’s editorial and other opposition to the DOMA, it remains unclear how the Court will rule. Some commentators have prematurely proclaimed that the DOMA is doomed. However, in a recent interview, Justice Anthony Kennedy, the perennial swing vote on the Court, suggested that the Court should not issue controlling opinions on hot-button political issues. He explained, “A democracy should not be dependent for its major decisions on what nine unelected people from a narrow legal background have to say.” This statement certainly increases the possibility that the Court may not overturn the DOMA.

Proposed New York Law on Late-Term Abortions

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has recently proposed some changes to New York’s laws on late-term abortions. Specifically, the new law would guarantee that women in New York have a right to late-term abortions when their health is in danger or the fetus is not viable. Under current New York law, abortions are allowed after 24 weeks of pregnancy only if the pregnant woman’s life is at risk. However, this law is unenforced based on Supreme Court rulings allowing late-term abortions to protect a mother’s health, regardless of whether her life is at risk.  In Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000), the Supreme Court held that Nebraska’s ban on partial birth abortion was unconstitutional because it lacked any exception for the preservation of the health of the mother. The Supreme Court’s abortion decisions show that the preservation of the health of the mother is a paramount concern. Even though New York’s law is unenforced, abortion rights advocates argue that the law has a chilling effect on some doctors and causes some women to leave the state to seek late-term abortions. Furthermore, the proposed New York law would remove abortion from the state’s penal law and regulate it through the state’s public health law. The proposed law would also provide that licensed health care practitioners as well as physicians could perform abortions.

The proposed New York law has generated fierce criticism from anti-choice advocates. Critics of the law assert that the change would allow for unchecked late-term abortions and increase the overall number of abortions in the state. Furthermore, opponents of the proposal argue that the change would endanger the lives of women by allowing non-physicians to perform abortions and prevent any future reasonable regulations of abortion. Polling indicates that many Americans oppose late-term abortions. Indeed, a recent USA Today/Gallup poll showed that 80 percent of Americans oppose late-term abortion (defined in the poll as abortion occurring in the final three months of pregnancy).

The proposed New York law also signals a rare occurrence in recent years of a state seeking to expand abortion coverage rather than restrict it. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 19 states adopted 43 new provisions restricting abortion access in 2012. Further, the Guttmacher report notes there was not a single significant measure adopted by any state to expand access to abortion. Andrea Miller, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York, said, “For New York to be able to send a signal, a hopeful sign, a sense of the turning of the tide, we think is really important.”

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