Federal Updates: The Latest from Around the Country
By Karen @ Planned Parenthood Action Fund | March 15, 2022, 6 a.m.
Justice Breyer Announces Retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court
After decades of service to our country both on and off the Supreme Court, Justice Stephen Breyer announced his intent to retire after this term assuming his replacement has been confirmed.
Justice Breyer has supported some of the nation’s most important decisions on reproductive freedom — including authoring pivotal decisions reaffirming the constitutional right to abortion. He also has dissented when the Court has failed to protect the right, including this past year as the Supreme Court allowed Texas’s unconstitutional six-week abortion ban to remain in effect. Justice Breyer also played a key role in ensuring marriage equality, protecting the Affordable Care Act, and more.
Although he is retiring, Justice Breyer will still have a key role in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization Supreme Court case. President Biden has committed to nominating a Black woman to the vacant seat and is expected to do so at the end of February, with the possibility that a nominee could be confirmed by the end of April.
We are hopeful that President Biden will nominate a new Supreme Court Justice who will support access to sexual and reproductive health care — as Justice Breyer has done throughout his career.
President Biden Nominates Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be First Black Woman on Supreme Court
At the end of February 2022, President Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. Judge Jackson brings a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and meaningful experience after years of service as a federal judge on both the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and as a public defender earlier in her career. If confirmed, she will be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
This nomination is happening as our freedoms and civil liberties are in crisis. We are currently awaiting a Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which challenges a blatantly unconstitutional ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The Court could rule to overturn nearly 50 years of precedent, established by Roe v. Wade, and decimate abortion access in states across the country. Now more than ever, we need a Supreme Court justice who understands the impact of the court's rulings on people — particularly on reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights — and the importance of protecting individual liberties for generations to come.
It’s crucial that the next Supreme Court justice is committed to safeguarding our individual liberties. Beyond Judge Jackson’s record of remarkable achievement, it is clear she has a deep commitment to public service and pursuing equal justice under the law.
An Update on Abortion Restrictions/Bans Across the Country
Idaho Passes Abortion Ban Based on Texas’ S.B. 8
On March 14, Idaho became the first state state to adopt a copycat of Texas' S.B. 8 law, which relies on ordinary citizens to enforce a ban on abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.
The Idaho bill differs from the Texas law in some key respects. The Texas legislation allows any civilian to sue anyone, whether a ride-share driver, or a doctor who “aids or abets” someone in getting an abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected. If the lawsuit is successful, someone could potentially gain $10,000 plus legal fees. The Idaho bill, similarly titled a “heartbeat bill,” allows family members of what the legislation calls “a preborn child” to sue the abortion provider, and establishes a reward of at least $20,000, plus legal fees. It allows lawsuits against providers for up to four years after an abortion.
Additionally, the Texas law allows no exceptions for people who are victims of rape or incest. The Idaho bill provides an exception but requires people to file a police report and show it to the provider before they can get an abortion.
While neither state would prosecute people who have an abortion, bills like these are a clear and extreme attempt at banning abortion entirely, and have dangerous consequences for people who need abortion care, their providers, and their support networks.
Florida Legislature Passes H.B. 5, A 15-Week Abortion Ban
On March 3, Florida legislators votedto ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. This will severely restrict access to abortion care throughout the state and will force patients with the means to travel to flee the state in order to access basic, critical care. Those who cannot travel out of state for care will be forced to make difficult decisions, and may even be forced to carry pregnancies against their will.
The bill, which is modeled after a similar abortion ban in Mississippi that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon rule on, now heads to Gov. DeSantis’ desk for approval. We anticipate he will sign this bill into law. A veto campaign has already launched, and Floridians have continued to speak out and organize against this dangerous bill.
Women’s Health Protection Act
On February 28, the U.S. Senate took a historic vote on The Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), critical legislation that would have protected the right to abortion throughout the United States and guard against dangerous abortion bans and medically unnecessary abortion restrictions.
The historic action comes after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation in 2021. Despite the fact that the majority of Americans want abortion to be legal, the bill did not pass the threshold required to proceed. However, the vote itself was an unmistakable sign of momentum for the movement to protect reproductive freedom at the national level. This was the first time that a bill that would have codified abortion was called for a vote and was an absolutely critical moment for Senators to demonstrate their support for abortion access to their constituents and the nation, particularly as the Supreme Court is poised to potentially overturn Roe later this year.
Planned Parenthood Action Fund and our allies will never stop fighting for access to safe, legal abortion — no matter what.
Get Free At-Home COVID-19 Tests
The federal government launched a new initiative to provide free at-home COVID-19 tests to people across the United States. Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order four free at-home COVID-19 tests at a time, and each household is able to order from the site twice.
To request your four free tests, visit covidtests.gov. The only information you need to enter is your first name, last name, email, and physical address. The tests are completely free and orders will usually ship in 7-12 days.
Title X Update
Late last year, the Biden administration announced the end of the Title X gag rule, a dangerous policy that made it illegal for health care providers in the Title X program to refer patients for an abortion. The previous enforcement of this gag rule forced many providers out of the nation’s only federal program dedicated to providing affordable birth control and other reproductive health care to people with low incomes. When the gag rule was ended by the Biden administration, many such providers were able to reapply to the Title X program and provide patients with the comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care they deserve.
The State of Ohio then filed a lawsuit in a federal district court in Ohio to challenge the Biden administration’s end to the Title X gag rule. Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia joined the lawsuit as well, claiming that the Biden Administration’s rescinding of the gag rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act.
On February 8, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit refused to restore the gag rule in the Title X program. While this is not the end of the litigation, the Title X program can continue to function without a restrictive gag rule for now, and people accessing care through Title X must receive medically accurate information, including counseling and referrals for abortion as desired.
This decision means that the ongoing process of rebuilding the Title X network continues for now.
Update on Texas’ S.B. 8
In December of 2021, the Supreme Court handed down its decision on two lawsuits against S.B. 8, the Texas abortion law that is the nation’s most restrictive. In Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, the Supreme Court’s decision allowed providers, including Planned Parenthood, to continue to challenge S.B. 8 in lower courts and pursue an injunction. However, the Court cut off many of the ways to challenge the law – essentially only allowing cases against licensing authorities to go forward. In United States v. Texas, the Court dismissed the case, and S.B. 8 still remains in effect for now.
On January 20, 2022, The Supreme Court again denied a request from abortion providers and advocates to allow their federal challenge against S.B. 8 to finally proceed in district court after months of delay since the law took effect on September 1.
We are extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court has continuously upheld this heinous and blatantly unconstitutional abortion ban that never should have been allowed to take effect. Patients with the means to travel are being forced to flee the state to access basic, critical care, those without the means are being forced to carry pregnancies against their will, and abortion providers in neighboring states to Texas are struggling to keep up with the influx of patients that have been forced to flee from Texas to seek the care they need.
We stand with abortion providers everywhere, and with the people of Texas, who continue to face this dangerous law. We are grateful to California state legislators who are working to expand, not ban, access to sexual and reproductive health and will always provide care to all who come to our health center doors. You can help us fight back against Texas S.B. 8 by signing the petition in support of abortion access in Texas and the rest of the nation.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization Supreme Court Case
The Supreme Court heard arguments on December 1, 2021, in a challenge to a Mississippi law that bans almost all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, is in direct conflict with Roe v. Wade, which says laws that ban access to abortions prior to fetal viability are unconstitutional. A decision on this case is expected to be handed down in the spring or summer of this year.
You can help us defend the right to safe, legal abortions by signing Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s “Keep Your Bans Off My Body” petition. You can also join us in calling your Senators and asking them to protect and expand abortion access and pass the Women's Health Protection Act today.