Monday saw a grand jury choosing to indict the videographers of the controversial videos defaming Planned Parenthood instead of the subjects of the video. But that wasn’t the only victory for pro-choice advocates.
Amongst the handful of decisions the Supreme Court released yesterday was a higher-profile refusal, involving a 2013 North Dakota law that would revive its proposed restrictions on abortions, which if enacted would have been the strictest in the nation. Could we be seeing a shift back around abortion restrictions?
It’s important to note that these are relatively recent restrictions. The Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 made abortion legal in the U.S. up to the third trimester, and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey in 1992 walked it back to fetal “viability,” or 23-24 weeks into the pregnancy.
Abortion has, over the years, remained utterly controversial. But since the 2010 midterm elections, anti-abortion regulators took control of many state legislatures, and since then there’s been a massive spike in legislation around the country. From 2011 to 2013, 205 state-level abortion restrictions were enacted, which once again transformed the landscape of abortion politics in the U.S.
One of these was North Dakota’s heartbeat law, which would have banned abortion after a fetus’ heartbeat was detectable—or around six weeks. In March 2013, when the bill was signed, Nebraska Gov. Jack Dalrymple called it one of three bills that were “a legitimate attempt by state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade.” Though even supporters saw the bill’s success as a long shot, what with it losing at Federal District Court and the Eighth Circuit, they thought maybe the court would be ready to reconsider the concept of viability.
But SCOTUS was not on board for such an exploration. On Monday the court announced it would not be reviewing the lower court’s ruling, and thus overturned the law. And there’s a good reason they might feel that way, as Philip Thomas writes about similar bills in Mississippi on MS Litigation Review:
The official reason for the bill is to promote women’s health. But the real reason is to end all legal abortions, something the bill’s proponents occasionally slip up and admit publicly. From the Times article:
Tanya Britton, a board member for Pro-Life Mississippi, said the laws enacted in her state and others, including the admitting-privilege requirement, were intended not just to make abortion safer but to end them.
“These incremental laws are part of a greater strategy to end abortion in our country,” she said. “It’s part of it, and one day, our country will be abortion free.”
That’s an honest answer. Of course, outlawing legal abortions in a safe and regulated environment will make abortions much more dangerous.
So why don’t proponents of the bills publicly admit that the intent is to end all legal abortions? Because if that is the intent, then the bill is almost guaranteed to violate Roe v. Wade.
As it stands, it seems the courts have no interest in exploring the limits of Roe v. Wade, nor do they have any interest in strict bans that fly in the face of it. With a major abortion rights case set to be argued in front of the Justices next month, it could indicate that they—along with other appeals courts—aren’t as enthused by anti-abortion regulation as many state legislators are.