January 6, 2014 — Advocates on both sides of the abortion-rights debate are bracing for a year of legal and political fights that could determine the future of abortion access across the country, the New York Times reports.
According to the Times, this year will provide key tests for state abortion restrictions that could reshape the limits of Roe v. Wade and other legal precedents. More than half of states enacted antiabortion-rights measures in the past three years, prompting clinic closures and creating other barriers to abortion access. Legal fights over several of those measures are now making their way through the courts.
Suzanne Goldberg, director of Columbia University's Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, said, "I think we are at a potential turning point: Either access to abortion will be dramatically restricted in the coming year or perhaps the pushback will begin."
In one high-profile case, the Supreme Court later this month is expected to announce whether it will hear Arizona's appeal to reinstate a ban on abortions before fetal viability that was struck down in lower federal courts. About a dozen states have passed similar laws that bar abortions after about 20 weeks of gestation, based on the medically disputed theory that fetuses can feel pain at that point of development. Courts have struck down three of the laws, but they remain in force in nine other states, according to the Times.
Caitlin Borgmann, a reproductive-rights expert at the City University of New York School of Law, said if the Supreme Court does "take the Arizona case, it seems like at least four of the justices are willing to reconsider the viability line as the point at which states can ban abortions." However, many legal experts think the court will decline to hear the case, the Times reports.
Other key legal battles this year include tests of state laws requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals or meet surgical center standards. Such requirements gained nationwide attention in Texas, where the state Legislature passed an omnibus antiabortion-rights bill (HB 2) that forced almost one-third of the state's clinics to stop performing the procedure.
The Texas law's admitting privileges provision will be tested in a New Orleans federal appeals court on Monday, when reproductive-rights groups will argue that the requirement serves no valid purpose. Texas officials argue that the measure ensures safety and does not overly burden women. Some Supreme Court justices have said they expect to eventually hear a case on the provision, according to the Times.
Meanwhile, some abortion-rights advocates see signs that the political momentum is shifting in their favor. Abortion-rights supporters have pointed to the defeat of an Albuquerque, N.M., referendum that would have imposed a 20-week abortion ban in the city and the loss of ardent abortion-rights opponent Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) in Virginia's gubernatorial race as indicators of voters' support for abortion rights.
"I honestly believe we have shifted the momentum," NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said (Eckholm, New York Times, 1/3).