Reproductive Justice?

President Bill Clinton stands by as Ruth Bader Ginsburg is sworn in as associate Supreme Court Justice in 1993

President Bill Clinton stands by as Ruth Bader Ginsburg is sworn in as associate Supreme Court justice in 1993

When Justice Antonin Scalia died on February 13, 2016, it was the death of more than just one man. For the first time in 20 years, the fairly reliable conservative tilt of the Supreme Court vanished. Now there were four generally liberal justices, three remaining consistently conservative justices, and Anthony Kennedy, a moderate who, though usually conservative, could move to the left, especially on social issues, as we saw in his eloquent opinion in support of same-sex marriage. If Kennedy voted with the conservatives, it would result in a tie, not a 5-4 decision. In case of a tied vote on the Supreme Court, the lower court ruling holds, and if there are conflicting rulings in different circuits, we continue with different law in different parts of the country.

Or the court could order a rehearing of a case once a new justice is seated.


The makeup of the Supreme Court is a glaring example of how much is at stake in presidential elections.


The political wheels started turning immediately. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell almost immediately announced that Scalia’s seat should be filled after “the American people” weigh in during the presidential election — Republicans always seem to forget that the American people have already weighed in twice by making Barack Obama president. This categorical rejection of any Obama nominee, no matter who, is unprecedented. Scalia’s seat was apparently sacred, and could only fairly be filled by a Republican appointee. McConnell does not seem to consider that the next president might also be a Democrat.

The change in the balance of the court was apparent in the first of two cases concerning reproductive health that were scheduled to be heard this month. (The second case, Zubik v. Burwell, will be argued on March 23.) At SCOTUSblog, Lyle Denniston analyzed the oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. It was always clear that the outcome would hinge on Justice Kennedy, and, before Scalia’s death, that in all likelihood the Texas law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and abortion clinics to meet ambulatory surgical clinic requirements, would be upheld. Continue reading

The Nation’s — and Arizona’s — Road to Marriage Equality

Protesters advocate for marriage equality as the Supreme Court hears Hollingsworth v. Perry. Image: Victoria Pickering

Protesters advocate for marriage equality as the Supreme Court hears Hollingsworth v. Perry. Image: Victoria Pickering

June is often known as a big month for weddings. Last June, that was more true than ever as a political battle over the right to marry was in front of the Supreme Court.

In the spring and early summer of 2013 and the days and weeks leading up to the decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry, it was clear that no matter what that case decided about same-sex marriage, the public had decided in favor of marriage equality. Hollingsworth v. Perry challenged Proposition 8, a California same-sex marriage ban that was passed by voter initiative in 2008. The plaintiffs in the case charged that Proposition 8 violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.


Arizona was the first state to defeat a ballot initiative against marriage equality, but it still doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage today.


Interest built as the case made its way through the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court. The attorneys challenging the ban were themselves a sign of the change taking place in the United States, as former rivals in the Bush v. Gore trial — the Supreme Court trial over the disputed 2000 presidential election — joined forces to challenge Proposition 8. David Boies, a Democrat who had represented Al Gore, joined Theodore Olson, a Republican who had represented George W. Bush.

Before agreeing to serve as counsel for the plaintiffs, Olson had been approached by backers of Proposition 8 to serve as their counsel. Olson declined on the grounds that the law was contrary to both his legal and personal views. However, a high-profile Republican had made the case that the tide was turning, and polling before the Hollingsworth decision provided proof in numbers. Support for marriage equality was growing across all major demographic sectors, and 14 percent of those polled by the Pew Research Center had switched from opposing to supporting marriage equality. A CBS News poll showed that a 53-percent majority now supported same-sex marriage. Alex Lundry, a data scientist who had worked on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, called it “the most significant, fastest shift in public opinion that we’ve seen in modern American politics.” At the same time, celebrities ranging from hip-hop artist Jay-Z to Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo joined the fray as allies. Continue reading

When Metaphor Becomes Reality: The Abortion Battle and the Necessity of the FACE Act

PP entrance

Clinic escorts at a Washington, D.C. Planned Parenthood. Photo: Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño via Flickr

Serving as the medical director of a reproductive health clinic made Dr. George Tiller a lightning rod for constant vitriol — and more than once a target of violence. Picketers routinely gathered outside his clinic in Wichita, Kansas, a site of their protests because it provided abortions, including late-term abortions. In 1986, Tiller saw the clinic firebombed. Seven years later, in 1993, he suffered bullet wounds to his arms when an anti-abortion extremist fired on him outside the property. Finally, in 2009, he was fatally shot while attending worship services at a Wichita church.


Anti-abortion extremists can create life-threatening scenarios for those who seek reproductive health care.


In the wake of Dr. Tiller’s death, many reproductive rights advocates argued that his assassination could have been avoided. The shooting was not the first time his murderer, 51-year-old Scott Roeder, broke the law.

Roeder could have been stopped prior to the shooting under a federal law, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which was enacted in 1994 — 19 years ago this Sunday — to protect the exercise of reproductive health choices. The FACE Act makes it a federal crime to intimidate or injure a person who is trying to access a reproductive health clinic. It also makes it unlawful to vandalize or otherwise intentionally damage a facility that provides reproductive health care.

Roeder’s ideology was the root of his criminality. Roeder subscribed to a magazine, Prayer and Action News, that posited that killing abortion providers was “justifiable homicide.” Roeder also had ties to a right-wing extremist movement that claimed exemption from U.S. laws and the legal system. Continue reading

The Birmingham Clinic Bombing and the Culture of Violence Against Reproductive Freedom

After earning her nursing degree from the University of Alabama in 1977, Emily Lyons developed a suite of skills in a variety of health care settings, from in-home care to emergency services. She passed on much of her knowledge to future nurses when she taught at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, and by 1998, she had taken the helm as director of nursing at the New Woman All Women Health Care clinic in Birmingham, Alabama.


The 1990s were a time of numerous murders and attempted murders of reproductive health-care providers.


Lyons remembers little from January 29 of that year, a date 15 years ago today. She woke up earlier than she wanted but pushed herself through her morning routine, knowing she could look forward to a nap after work. She also looked forward to being home again with her husband, who was back from two weeks of business travel. But when she arrived at work, a devastating act of violence would ensure that nothing that ordinary would happen to her that day.

At 7:33 a.m., just as the clinic was opening, a bomb containing dynamite and nails exploded outside, killing security guard Robert Sanderson and critically injuring Emily Lyons. Although it was one of dozens of abortion clinic bombings that had occurred since abortion was legalized in 1973, the bombing of that Birmingham clinic was the first that resulted in a fatality. The five prior murders of reproductive health-care providers had been by gunshot.

Wounded in her face and legs, Lyons’ life was changed forever. After a long recovery, she was unable to resume her nursing career, but she became a spokesperson and activist for reproductive rights, receiving, among other honors, the Margaret Sanger Woman of Valor Award from Planned Parenthood. Continue reading