SCOTUS Tells Arizona’s Anti-Abortion Crusaders to Suck It Up (January 13, 2014)


I’d like to take a break from obsessing over the real-time demise of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to offer some counterprogramming. It feels especially incumbent on me to contribute something else to our national political dialogue. It was just about three months ago  that I made the mistake of characterizing Christie as an elected leader unwilling to “waste time and taxpayer money on a battle he can’t win.” Yikes. ‘Tis the curse of the pundit to be haunted by the unpredictably crazy.

In any case, Christie’s developing cautionary tale of the overreach should not be permitted to overshadow the host of other challenges facing America in the New Year. From stalled Democratic efforts to extend unemployment insurance benefits for long-term job seekers, a possible reboot of immigration reform and the run-up to November’s midterm elections, voters have much about which to think and debate.

And one issue that I want to ensure never disappears from the headlines and our consciousness is the continuing Republican assault on female reproductive rights. The white male-dominated right has proven rather tireless in its quest to render family planning decisions for us womenfolk, while preaching about libertarian freedoms from the other side of the mouth. If there’s any party awareness of the hypocritical conflict of these positions, it is well hidden.

Fortunately it appears that both voter and court system are growing tired of these patronizing and patriarchal efforts to foist an impertinent ideology on the private lives of American citizens. Early in the week, writer Adam Liptak of the New York Timespublished a piece entitled, “Supreme Court Won’t Hear Arizona Appeal on Abortion Ban.” At issue is a Grand Canyon State law, passed in 2012, that prohibits most abortions, except in medical emergencies, after 20 weeks. Naturally, the legislation’s definition of “medical emergency” is so narrow as to render the attainment of a legal abortion nearly impossible.

This past May, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, located in San Francisco, deemed the law unconstitutional. But supporters were not ready to relent and opted to press the SCOTUS to review the case – to no avail.

Liptak writes, “Arizona officials conceded that the law covered abortions before fetal viability, currently about 24 weeks as measured from a woman’s last menstrual period. But they argued that the law did not amount to an outright ban, only to a permissible regulation, one they said was justified by the state’s interest in preventing fetal pain and the increased risk to women as their pregnancies progress. The appeals court rejected both arguments.”

Though the Supreme Court declined to comment in their repudiation of Arizona’s appeal, it can be inferred that the justices chose to accept the conventional wisdom of the medical community. As Liptak observes, “The law’s sponsors claimed that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, a contention that has been disputed by major medical groups.”

The last few years have been a confusing epoch in which proponents of reproductive freedoms have had to assume the defensive crouch of so many hockey goalies, protecting rights that were definitively affirmed over 40 years ago. But don’t expect the GOP to relent. The article quotes Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s spokesman Andrew Wilder as framing the high court’s decision as “‘wrong, and is a clear infringement on the authority of states to implement critical life-affirming laws.’ He said the governor would ‘keep her options on the table,’ but would not specify what those might be.”

Whether that declaration is face-saving bluster, or a statement of genuine intent to get creative about finding novel ways to violate woman’s rights, remains to be seen. But 2014 is going to require vigilance from those who believe that control over our own bodies is part and parcel of the right to “liberty” that Republicans love to promote – when it suits their agenda.


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