This morning at the ABA Annual Meeting in Boston, I attended a session titled “The Changing Legal Landscape of Women’s Health and Reproductive Rights: The Struggle for Control.”

Throughout the country, states are enacting laws that give government increasing powers over women’s reproductive rights and health care decisions. At the federal level, the Affordable Care Act has also resulted in significant litigation. As illustrated by recent Circuit Court decisions, the constitutionality of the Act’s contraception mandate is intertwined with questions of religious freedoms, as seen most recently in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores. The Court found that closely held corporations are protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and thus cannot be required to follow the contraception mandate when doing so violates their religious beliefs.

Three panelists discussed the array of restrictions that have been implemented over the past several years affecting women’s reproductive decisions and how these restrictions have impacted the delivery and access to health services generally and to women in poor communities.

Michele Bratcher Goodwin, Everett Fraser Chair in Law and professor of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Minnesota, had some interesting insights on what she referred to as the criminalization of pregnant women. She referenced a woman being thrown in jail for three days after falling down the stairs while pregnant, and another who was charged with first degree murder after trying to commit suicide while pregnant as recent examples of this criminalization. While this kind of criminalization was often seen in the pre-Roe v. Wade era, particularly in poor black women, now all women need to be concerned, according to Goodwin.

Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project spoke about the ACLU’s involvement in women’s rights. “I like to say that with the ACLU, everyone will find something they agree with and something they don’t,” she said. “Reproductive rights are a hot topic in this realm. We’ve been involved in reproductive rights issues since the 1920s. We’ve been involved in every major Supreme Court case regarding reproductive rights.”

Farah Diaz-Tello, staff attorney with the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, talked about state interventions such as forced Caesarean sections and the importance of lobbying for reproductive rights. “If we simply showed up the way those who lobby for civil rights do, we would make more of an impact,” she said.

Goodwin added that activism in the form of boycotts is hugely important when it comes to women’s rights. If you don’t agree with Hobby Lobby, then “no more glue guns, no more candy, no more whatever else people need at Hobby Lobby. Just stop going there,” she added.

The panel ended the discussion by calling for equal protection when it comes to the urgency and need for women to be treated as equal constitutionally. “Your participation is absolutely critical,” Diaz-Tello told the audience. “The way the precedence is expanding is frightening.”



Please follow and like us:
Pin Share