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Divided Rulings on State Abortion Restrictions Could Prompt Supreme Court Cases

Divided Rulings on State Abortion Restrictions Could Prompt Supreme Court Cases

May 5, 2014 — Federal courts are divided in rulings over various state abortion-rights laws, making it increasingly likely that the Supreme Court will consider one or more of the issues, Politico Pro reports.

Legal experts on both sides of the abortion-rights debate think the high court is likely to take up two types of laws: those that require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and laws that restrict medication abortion.

There have been setbacks and victories for both sides in the lower courts. Supporters of the laws maintain that they improve protections for women's health, while opponents of the measures say they are really designed to block women's access to abortion and force clinics to close. At issue in many of the rulings is whether restrictions that limit women's abortion options constitute an "undue burden" on their rights.

For example, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March upheld a Texas law (HB 2) that included both admitting privileges and medication abortion restrictions, ruling that the law was not unconstitutional because women would still be able to obtain abortions despite having to travel long distances. The 6th Circuit also upheld an Ohio law (Section 2919.123 (A)) that restricts medication abortion.

However, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked admitting privileges requirements (SB 206) in Wisconsin -- ruling that they would pose an undue burden on women and are not medically necessary -- until the case goes to trial later this month. Likewise, the 9th Circuit has temporarily blocked a medication abortion law (HB 2036) in Arizona.

According to Politico Pro, these mixed rulings at both the district and appellate levels exemplify "the kind of division" that the Supreme Court looks for when selecting cases to hear.

Caitlin Borgmann, a professor of law at the City University of New York, said the opposing 7th and 5th Circuit Court rulings "are two very different possible interpretations of what the undue burden standard means." She added, "The Supreme Court is very likely to say we have to answer these questions" (Winfield Cunningham/Villacorta, Politico Pro, 5/4).