As the court enters its final month of its term, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will announce decisions on the first day of every work week during June. Last week, the court rejected an appeal on a dangerous abortion ban in Arkansas—and this week, the court issued two decisions—one related to abortion rights and one related to LGBTQ rights and anti-discrimination policy.
Planned Parenthood of Arkansas v. Jegley: Medication Abortion Ban
Last week, the Supreme Court announced it would not hear the challenge to a restrictive abortion law in Arkansas, Planned Parenthood of Arkansas v. Jegley, paving the way for the law to take effect.
Arkansas legislators passed Act 577 in 2015, a law that imposes criminal penalties on doctors who provide medication abortion, unless they have a signed contract with a physician who has active admitting privileges at a hospital. Arkansas’ Republican Governor signed the bill into law. In a lawsuit filed in 2015, Planned Parenthood showed its doctors had been unable to get admitting privileges at hospitals.
The decision not to hear the case has cleared the way for a ban on medication abortion in Arkansas to take effect, making it the first state in the country to implement such a law.
This marks a notable shift for the Court, as the Arkansas law is nearly identical to the Texas restriction the Supreme Court blocked in 2016 in its landmark Whole Woman’s Health decision and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ignored that precedent.
Azar v. Garza: Jane Moe Abortion Case
The Supreme Court vacated the October 2017 ruling in Azar v. Garza from the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, regarding the Trump-Pence administration’s unconstitutional interference in preventing an undocumented immigrant woman from receiving a safe, legal abortion. The case will return to lower courts where the ACLU has already obtained a preliminary injunction and will continue its work to block the Trump-Pence administration’s policy barring immigrants in government custody from getting abortions.
While some may say the court technically sided with the Trump-Pence Administration, this shouldn’t be seen as a loss, because as the ACLU points out “The Supreme Court’s decision considered only whether the trial court’s decision requiring the government to provide abortion access to Jane Doe had become moot, given that she had the abortion. It did not reverse or comment on the appeals court’s reasoning and did not address the underlying claims regarding access to abortion.”
Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told Newsweek: “An injunction remains in place to protect young undocumented women who need access to safe, legal abortion while the case proceeds. But this case should never have been necessary in the first place. The Trump-Pence administration must stop interfering with immigrant women’s health care. After risking everything to flee danger in their home country, young undocumented immigrants should be able to access basic health care with dignity — not be met with coercion and cruelty. All women deserve to be treated with respect, and access to health care no matter their immigration status.”
Abortion has been safe and legal in the United States for more than 40 years. Since 1973, with the landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that the Constitution protects every person’s right to safe, legal abortion. Access to safe abortion is legal, constitutionally protected, and consistently supported by a majority of Americans; yet anti-reproductive health policymakers have made it increasingly hard to access through court battles, ballot measures, and burdensome legislative restrictions on abortion services. All people, regardless of immigration status, should have access to the full range of reproductive health care services, including access to safe and legal abortion.
Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commissions
In one of the biggest Supreme Court cases of the year, the court handed down a narrow 7-2 ruling on a case about civil rights policy protecting LGBTQ people and freedom of religion.
The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commissions, dealt with the issue that a gay couple in Colorado faced when seeking to purchase a wedding cake from a cake shop. The couple requested a cake for their wedding, and were denied the service from the cake shop. The cake shop claimed that baking the cake for a homosexual couple would violate their freedom of religion. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission argued that refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple violates state anti-discrimination policy that makes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal.
Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, shared her reaction with Hornet.com: “LGBTQ people deserve dignity and respect, and we deserve to have our civil rights protected by law. The Supreme Court’s decision recognized this truth. Whether it’s denying a gay couple a wedding cake or stripping away LGBTQ people’s ability to access health care free of discrimination, no person, corporation, or institution has the right to impose their religious beliefs on others. Planned Parenthood will … stand with the advocates working to ensure that religious freedom does not become a license to discriminate.”
Marriage equality has been the law of the land in the United States for almost three years now, and much important progress has been made in the fight for equality and justice for LGBTQ people. Despite this progress, we continue to see hateful actions, legislation, and rhetoric targeting LGBTQ communities. And people in the LGBTQ community who are also people of color, or whose identities otherwise intersect, face magnified challenges. For example, LGBTQ people of color face particularly high rates of discrimination from medical providers, and systemic harassment. Planned Parenthood is committed to creating a world where LGBTQ people can live authentically and free from discrimination and violence.
It should come as no surprise that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a compelling dissent to this case. Justice Ginsburg has been a longtime supporter of civil rights of all forms and incredible champion on many issues, including both LGBTQ rights and abortion rights.
Ginsburg’s dissent discussed how the couple in this case was seeking the exact same type of cake that heterosexual couples would seek to celebrate a marriage. She thoughtfully compared this case to other cases, where people requested cakes with hateful images from bakers and were rightfully denied. In this case, she argued, it was clear discrimination because the couple “mentioned no message or anything else distinguishing the cake they wanted to buy from any other wedding cake” that would have been sold to a heterosexual couple without question from Masterpiece Cakeshop. In other words: they weren’t asking for the baker to make a cake that itself inherently supported homosexuality. They were asking the baker to make a wedding cake. She notes that the couple in this case was asking for a cake that the baker would have happily made for other couples – and they were denied access to it because of their sexual orientation.
We’re thankful for champions like Ruth Bader Ginsburg who understand the importance of honoring and respecting LGBTQ people.