Heartbeat bills, in-person requirement for abortion drug halted.
U.S. District Judge Steve Jones permanently blocked Georgia’s Living Infants Fairness and Equality (“LIFE”) Act, which prohibits abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat and recognizes unborn children as natural persons. SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, Feminist Women’s Health Center, Planned Parenthood Southeast and other abortion providers, and three individual doctors sued the state over the law in June 2019. They said it went against the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide.
Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who supported the fetal-heartbeat measure from the start, said the state will appeal the ruling, Courthouse News Service reported.
“Georgia values life and we will keep fighting for the rights of the unborn,” Kemp said in a statement.
A “heartbeat bill” also hit a road block in Tennessee, where a federal district court issued a temporary restraining order barring enforcement of two bans on pre-viability abortions. One bans abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detectable. The other bans pre-viability abortions sought because of the race or sex of the fetus or the potential for a Down syndrome diagnosis.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the ACLU of Tennessee filed a lawsuit to block the law immediately after it passed the state legislature on June 19. The ban was in effect for less than an hour before being blocked by the court.
“These ‘reason bans’ inflict harm by peddling stigma around abortions and stereotypes of Black and Brown communities, Asian Americans, and people with disabilities,” said the ACLU of Tennessee in a statement. “Abortion patients — like all patients — should have the right to make private medical decisions with their families and their doctors, without interference from politicians.”
Another development was when U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland agreed to suspend a rule that requires women during the COVID-19 pandemic to visit a hospital, clinic or medical office to obtain an abortion pill. Chuang said in-person requirements constitute a “substantial obstacle” to abortion patients and are likely unconstitutional during the current pandemic.
“Particularly in light of the limited timeframe during which a medication abortion or any abortion must occur, such infringement on the right to an abortion would constitute irreparable harm,” the judge’s decision said.
The drugs in question are mifepristone and misoprostol. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other groups sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration in May to challenge the rule. ACLU lawyers represent the groups.
Skye Perryman, chief legal officer for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the FDA’s restrictions on mifepristone are not medically necessary and “do not advance the health and safety of patients.”
Government lawyers argued that the in-person requirements are necessary to ensure that patients safely use mifepristone, the Associated Press said.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports pro-life political candidates, said in a statement, “The current FDA regulations are reasonable and necessary to protect women from serious and potentially life-threatening complications of abortion drugs, including intense pain, heavy bleeding, infection, and even death.”
The three court orders, which were issued Monday, came just weeks after the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law in June Medical Services v. Russo, which required abortionists to have admitting privileges in local hospitals.
Last week, a Maryland federal district court enjoined implementation of HHS’ “separate billing rule” which would have complicated the billing for abortion coverage in health insurance policies offered through state exchanges.
“HHS proposed that issuers would need to send two separate bills to the policyholder to comply with § 1303 (one bill for the portion of the premium attributable to non-Hyde abortion coverage and one for the rest of the premium), and instruct the policyholder to pay the premium attributable to non-Hyde abortion coverage in a separate transaction,” the court said in Planned Parenthood of Maryland, Inc. v. Azar.
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