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SCOTUS To Announce Whether it Will Consider Miss., N.C. Abortion Restrictions

SCOTUS To Announce Whether it Will Consider Miss., N.C. Abortion Restrictions

June 1, 2015 — The Supreme Court soon will decide whether to take up one of two possible cases involving state abortion restrictions, the Los Angeles Times reports.

According to the Times, one of the cases involves an admitting privileges requirement (HB 1390) in Mississippi, while the other involves a North Carolina law (SL 2011-405) mandating certain ultrasound requirements before an abortion.

States led by conservative lawmakers since 2010 have passed a spate of abortion regulations, many of which have been blocked or overturned by federal courts, the Times reports. The high court so far has refused to consider any of those challenges.

Mississippi Lawsuit

According to the Times, the Supreme Court justices will announce in the next few weeks whether they will consider the Mississippi law, which threatens to shut down the state's sole abortion clinic (Savage, Los Angeles Times, 5/29).

The law requires that physicians performing abortions in Mississippi have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The physicians at Jackson Women's Health Organization sought admitting privileges at multiple hospitals but were denied, prompting the state to order the clinic to close for violating the law.

In July 2014, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision that the law would have illegally shifted Mississippi's constitutional obligations to other states by eliminating abortion access inside the state. The ruling did not overturn the law or assess whether the admitting privileges requirement is a justified safety measure. Rather, the ruling preserved an existing stay against the law and left the lower courts to consider the measure under the now-clarified principle of state responsibility.

In August 2014, Mississippi's attorney general asked the full 5th Circuit to review the panel's ruling. The full circuit declined to do so in November 2014, meaning the law remains on hold for now and JWHO can remain open while the underlying lawsuit proceeds.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (D) in February asked the Supreme Court to review the 5th Circuit's decision. In April, attorneys representing JWHO filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to dismiss the state's case in defending the law (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/24).

North Carolina Lawsuit

Meanwhile, according to the Times, the justices could announce whether they will consider the North Carolina case by mid-June (Los Angeles Times, 5/29).

The law requires physicians to perform ultrasounds and display and describe the images to women seeking abortions, even if the women object. The requirement has never taken effect because of ongoing court challenges, although other provisions of the law remain in place.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower court's ruling that struck down the narrated ultrasound requirement, stating that the provision is an unconstitutional violation of physicians' free-speech rights.

In March, North Carolina requested that the Supreme Court consider the 4th Circuit's decision (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/24).

Implications

According to the Times, a Supreme Court decision not to hear the Mississippi or North Carolina cases would be a win for abortion-rights supporters, who argue that stringent abortion restrictions implemented in conservative states are intended to hinder abortion access.

Meanwhile, attorneys in both North Carolina and Mississippi have argued that the high court should weigh in on the laws and clarify which regulations constitute an "undue burden" on women seeking abortion (Los Angeles Times, 5/29).