The Hyde Amendment at 40: Constitutional Rights Are for Everyone … Who Can Afford Them

profileThe debate around the Hyde Amendment has been squarely focused around abortion. Rightly so. The procedure is still a delicate topic, despite approximately 2 out of 5 women getting an abortion in their lifetimes. But the Hyde Amendment has another angle that no one is talking about. Do poor women actually have a constitutional right when they cannot afford access to that right?


The Hyde Amendment turns 40 this Friday. So what’s the Hyde Amendment?


In 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decided that individuals have a right to privacy under the 14th Amendment. Roe v. Wade, along with several other cases, saw SCOTUS reasoning that a right to privacy extends to a woman’s right to an abortion. Women who lived through centuries of dangerous back-alley abortions, botched abortions, and dangerous abortifacient drugs saw Roe as a pivotal case for women’s rights.

Three years after Roe v. Wade — 40 years ago this Friday, on September 30, 1976Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois attached a rider to the annual appropriations bill. The Hyde Amendment forbade federal funds to be used for abortions. This rider has been renewed yearly, but never officially added to the bill itself. Years later, two more provisions were added to the Hyde Amendment to allow exceptions for the health of the mother and cases of rape or incest. The effect of this provision meant that thousands of poor women would no longer be able to afford an abortion. Their access to a constitutional right had been considerably decreased. Continue reading

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt: Finally, Facts Matter

Tex-Supremes BlogOn Monday, June 27, 2016, the Supreme Court decided that Texas HB2 was unconstitutional, eliminating requirements for Texas doctors to have hospital admitting privileges near their clinics and for abortion clinics to become surgical facilities. Many fine summaries of this landmark decision popped up within hours of the decision. See Planned Parenthood’s press release and “The Court once again makes the ‘undue-burden’ test a referendum on the facts” on SCOTUS Blog.


On Monday, the Supreme Court demanded that laws be supported by facts.


What struck me most about the majority opinions written by Justices Breyer and Ginsburg was the lack of assertion and conjecture so often found in the court’s previous abortion case decisions. Recall Justice Kennedy’s 2007 Gonzales v. Carhart opinion upholding Congress’ Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003: “We find no reliable data” that abortion causes women emotional harm, but we find it nonetheless “self-evident” and “unexceptional to conclude” that “some women” who choose to terminate their pregnancies suffer “regret,” “severe depression,” “loss of esteem,” and other ills. “Some women”? Did we really uphold a law based upon this kind of neo-paternalistic, fuzzy thinking?

Not this time out. The Supreme Court put future litigants on notice: Facts matter, science matters, logic matters, common-sense inference matters. Unsupported assertions? Nah. Consultants parading as scientists? Not so much. In workmanlike fashion, dealing with abortion in a frank and unapologetic way, the majority read into law 15 separate District Court findings of fact gleaned from stipulations, depositions, and testimony. Further, the court chastised Texas for “attempting to label an opposing expert witness, Doctor Grossman, as irresponsible.” Breyer writes, “making a hypothesis — and then attempting to verify that hypothesis with further studies, as Dr. Grossman did — is not irresponsible. It is an essential element of the scientific method. The District Court’s decision to credit Dr. Grossman’s testimony was sound, particularly given that Texas provided no credible experts to rebut it.” Wow — The Supremes defend the scientific method. Color me happy.  Continue reading

The Roots of Resistance: The Social Justice Context of Sexual Harassment Law

wga_posterEarlier this year, Scandal star Kerry Washington brought sexual harassment into the spotlight with her portrayal of the embattled Anita Hill in HBO’s Confirmation. The movie dramatizes how Hill herself made sexual harassment a topic of high-profile, nationwide debate when she came forward to speak out against Clarence Thomas during his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Hill’s testimony gave resolve to others who had experienced similar treatment in the workplace, ushering in a 40-percent increase in the number of sexual harassment claims filed with state and federal agencies in 1991 and 1992. But as inspiring as her testimony was, Hill stood on the shoulders of brave women before her who confronted sexual harassment and helped advance a body of law that makes workplaces, schools, and other institutions safer spaces. That body of law now protects people against “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature,” as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission summarizes.


The fight against sexual harassment is closely connected to the long struggle for freedom among African Americans.


The breakthrough cases in sexual harassment law provide a revealing look at the short and surprising history of the battles, both in and out of court, that brought the issue into public consciousness. It is a history that shatters popular perceptions of feminism’s second wave and brings to light an overlooked dimension of another fight for social justice: the Civil Rights Movement.

Two Landmark Legal Decisions

When Mechelle Vinson applied for a job at Capital City Federal Savings in 1974, she was only 19 years old, but she had already had part-time jobs at several businesses around Washington, D.C., including a shoe store and an exercise club. For Vinson, lessons in supporting herself had come early. A strained relationship with her father had led her to drop out of high school and make repeated attempts to run away from home. She got married at “14 or 15,” because, as she recounted later, “I thought if I get married, I don’t have to go through problems with my father.” Continue reading

The 26th Amendment at 45: Bringing More Voters to the Fight for Reproductive Rights

Image of a button showing support for a lower voting age from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

When the question of same-sex marriage went before the Supreme Court in the summer of 2013, it was clear that millennials, the nation’s youngest adults, had already reached their verdict; 66 percent were in favor of recognizing it, putting them among the most supportive demographic groups in the U.S.

That same year, millennials were in the spotlight in another fight for social justice. Refusing to accept their university’s mishandling of sexual assault reports, two survivor activists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill fought back with federal complaints. Their activism turned up the pressure on their institution and evolved into the founding of the organization End Rape on Campus, or EROC, a networked movement against sexual assault that linked survivor activists and other advocates for change on college campuses throughout the U.S. Following EROC’s founding, supportive faculty formed Faculty Against Rape, or FAR, bringing the movement to more stakeholders in campus communities.


Young voters have the power to shape political futures.


Jennings Randolph, a Democratic member of Congress from 1933 to 1947 (and later a senator from 1958 to 1985), said the nation’s youth “possess a great social conscience, are perplexed by the injustices in the world and are anxious to rectify those ills.” With that faith in the collective power of young Americans, Randolph made it his mission, beginning in 1942, to introduce legislation that would lower the voting age to 18. Historically it had been 21. His hopes, though, would not be realized until decades later, in the 1970s.

The United States entered the 1970s bearing the toll of what became one of the longest and most unpopular wars in its history. By the time the Vietnam War ended in 1975, 2.5 million Americans had served in the conflict, a quarter of them because of the draft. More than 58,000 of them lost their lives. Continue reading

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

Courting Women

Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan: Sitting Supreme Court Justices

Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan: Sitting Supreme Court Justices

“… [T]he difference of having three women on the Supreme Court. I think that all the justices obviously are important in that court, but it really makes a difference to begin to have a court that more reflects the diversity of this country, and I think women who can really speak from a woman’s point of view, just how impactful these kind of laws that specifically target women and women’s access to health care, how impactful they are. And I was really grateful to have the women’s voices in the room.”

Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood president, March 2, 2016, commenting on that day’s oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

Me, too, Cecile.

Courting women. Let’s snatch that phrase from the parlor in a Jane Austen novel and lob it into the Supreme Court chambers, making courting not the passive “pick me” word of yesteryear, but an assertive “empower me” word of today.

Power, judiciously applied, is what Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan demonstrated during oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. They formed a tag team of relentless logic, assertiveness, and deep understanding of the predicament of women in Texas needing timely, accessible abortion care — and not getting it. The court was probing two provisions of Texas HB2, the law that requires that (1) physicians performing abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital near their clinics and (2) all abortions must be performed in ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs, mini-hospitals). (See SCOTUSblog “Round Up” and Roe v. Wade: Texas Then and Now for additional background on this important case.)

Justices explored the elements that create an unconstitutional “undue burden” for women seeking an abortion by questioning attorney Stephanie Toti, representing Whole Woman’s Health, and Solicitor General Scott Keller, representing Texas. Here are some highlights: Continue reading

Roe v. Wade: Texas Then and Now

“Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court: It’s an old joke, but when a man argues against two beautiful ladies like this, they are going to have the last word.”

Supreme Court, 1973

Supreme Court, 1973

Thus Jay Floyd, Texas assistant attorney general, opened his December 1971 oral argument in Roe v. Wade, as his adversary attorneys Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee sat nearby (no doubt dumbfounded) after Weddington had presented their argument for women’s abortion rights.

Wisely, the Texas reargument in 1972 opened with no attempt at humor. (When Roe was first argued, the Supreme Court consisted of only seven justices. Because the decision would be so historic, the Supreme Court decided to hear arguments a second time when all nine justices were in place the following year.) Then, on January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decided that a woman’s right to an abortion was constitutionally protected and the 1854 Texas law at issue was struck down, along with abortion laws in 45 other states. (The Texas gentleman was right: The Texas ladies did have the last word.)


What will the Supreme Court bring us this year? “Don’t Mess with Texas” or “Don’t Mess with Women”?


So, as we approach the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade this Friday, let’s mosey down memory lane. How did we get to that landmark decision, and where might we be going this year with a new Texas case testing abortion rights, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole?

Throughout history, abortion has been a common practice. At the time of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, abortion was legal in all states. Prior to the mid-1800s legal scholars were not proposing abortion laws, nor advocating “personhood” of an unborn child, nor asserting abortion control on medical safety or any other grounds. Continue reading