WOMEN

These Pending Cases Could Decide The Future Of Abortion Rights In America

At least 16 cases could come before the newly right-leaning Supreme Court, potentially wreaking havoc on Roe v. Wade.

The Supreme Court issued a ruling this week on its first abortion rights case since the conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined its ranks in the fall and pushed the landmark abortion ruling Roe v. Wade onto unstable ground

The question immediately at hand was whether Louisiana authorities may enforce a 2014 law severely restricting who can perform abortions while the measure faces legal challenges over its validity. Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen said the law would “drastically” limit abortion access for tens of thousands of women, particularly women of color. 

On Thursday the court voted 5-4 against the state, barring the measure from going into effect until the court can fully review it. Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s liberal members, for now. He has ultimately voted to uphold legislation similar to Louisiana’s in the past. 

This is only the beginning of the fight to preserve Roe v. Wade. A number of other abortion-related cases currently pending in various lower courts could land in the nation’s highest sometime this year, allowing a new set of justices to potentially reshape abortion access for millions. 

Below is a look at 16 cases that the Supreme Court could choose to take up, along with the Louisiana case it already has. Each would affect abortion access slightly differently: Some of the suits challenge laws that restrict certain abortion methods, others challenge attempts to restrict when a woman can terminate her pregnancy, and still others set procedural hurdles in the way of abortion providers and the women who want them. 

Here are the cases, in no particular order: 

Louisiana 

June Medical Services et al. v. Rebekah Gee ― currently awaiting Supreme Court action ― challenges a state law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, which is a difficult task. Opponents of the law say that it would leave just one doctor able to perform abortions for the tens of thousands of Louisiana women who obtain them each year. Many would be left out in the cold, unable to afford the time or money to travel out of state.

There’s a pretty good precedent for siding against the measure: In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down a nearly identical Texas law that also required abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges. The majority ruled on the basis of “undue burden” on women ― with Roberts and the court’s conservatives dissenting. Although the court takes precedent seriously, we don’t know how the current bench will reach its conclusion. 

Another case, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast et al. v. Rebekah Gee, is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit and centers on abortion providers’ ability to participate in Medicaid. 

Mississippi

Jackson Women’s Health Organization et al. v. Thomas Dobbs et al. challenges an extremely restrictive Mississippi law that bans abortion after just 15 weeks, among other limitations. The law also requires women to wait 24 hours between receiving state-mandated information on abortion and actually receiving the procedure. Although it has been blocked from going into effect, it is pending appeal before the 5th Circuit.  

Texas

One suit, Whole Woman’s Health et al. v. Ken Paxton et al., challenges a Texas law banning an abortion method known as “dilation and extraction,” but which abortion rights opponents call “dismemberment.” It is both safe and one of the most common forms of abortion in the second trimester. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the law would mainly effect women who already struggle to obtain abortion care. The case awaits a decision in the 5th Circuit.

Another suit, Whole Woman’s Health et al. v. Charles Smith, challenges a measure that prohibits fetal tissue from being disposed of in any manner, requiring instead that it be buried or cremated. It is also pending before the 5th Circuit. 

Kentucky

In EMW Women’s Surgical Center and Planned Parenthood of Indiana & Kentucky v. Adam Meier et al., the question facing the 6th Circuit is whether abortion providers should be required to sign advance agreements with ambulance services and nearby hospitals for emergency care. There is currently just one abortion clinic serving Kentucky women. 

Another case, EMW Women’s Surgical Center et al. v. Andrew Beshear et al., challenges a law requiring abortion providers to perform an ultrasound in which the fetal heartbeat is audible. It is also pending in the 6th Circuit. 

N.B.: As its previous attempts to restrict abortion access are tied up in court, Kentucky lawmakers are fast-tracking new legislation making the procedure illegal after a heartbeat is detected. A similar North Dakota measure was struck down previously, and the Supreme Court refused to review the case. 

Indiana

Three cases could make it up to the Supreme Court. One, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky v. Commissioner of the Indiana State Department of Health et al., challenges an Indiana law requiring an 18-hour waiting period between an ultrasound and an abortion procedure, and the state wants to take it to the Supreme Court. Another suit between the two parties challenges a measure banning abortion based on disability and requires fetal tissue be buried or cremated. It’s also awaiting Supreme Court action. 

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky v. Jerome Adams et al. challenges an Indiana measure requiring parents of minors to consent to any abortion procedure. It’s pending in the 7th Circuit. 

Ohio

Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio et al. v. Lance Himes et al. challenges an Ohio law that bans abortion in the case of a fetal Down Syndrome diagnosis. The state has already indicated that it would like the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Arkansas 

Frederick W. Hopkins v. Larry Jegley et al. challenges four Arkansas laws that include a ban on dilation and evacuation abortion procedures, restraints on disposing fetal tissue and high standards of medical records. It is pending in the 8th Circuit. 

Idaho

Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands v. Lawrence G. Wasden et al. challenges an Idaho law requiring abortion providers to document and report what lawmakers consider to be complications of abortion on the basis that it unfairly stigmatizes one type of medical care and does not go far enough to protect individual data. It is pending in the 9th Circuit. 

Alabama 

Reproductive Health Services et al. v. Daryl Bailey et al. challenges a law requiring a court to allow a minor girl’s parents and the district attorney to participate in judicial bypass ― in which a judge grants permission for an underage person to obtain an abortion. It is pending in the 11th Circuit. 

Another case, West Alabama Women’s Center et al. v. Thomas M. Miller et al., challenges a state law banning dilation and evacuation abortion procedures. The state wants the Supreme Court to take up the case. 

Washington, D.C. 

Rochelle Garza et al. v. Alex Azar II et al. is a class-action challenge to a Health and Human Services policy preventing underage undocumented migrants in federal custody from obtaining abortions. Brought in 2017 on behalf of Azar, a then-17-year-old, it is pending in the D.C. Circuit. (Azar was allowed to obtain her abortion.) 

This story has been updated with the Supreme Court’s decision to stay Louisiana’s abortion law pending a full review of the case. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Reproductive Health Services et al. v. Daryl Bailey et al. was pending in the 9th Circuit. It is pending in the 11th Circuit.

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