Amanda Matos and Bonyen Lee-Gilmore from Planned Parenthood Votes on why abortion access is reserved for the privileged — and how this election could change that

Abortion rights shouldn’t be reserved for a privileged few.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

This is the story of two worlds in the U.S. — where the power to decide what happens to your body, your life, and your future depends on the state you live in, who you are, and how much money you earn. We are cisgender heterosexual women of color, representing two of the fastest-growing groups in the American electorate. As a Latina and an Asian American woman, we know the right to live free from discrimination goes beyond who we elect to the White House. We are freedom-fighting activistas who carry light-skinned privilege, and know our votes are bigger than our individual stories.

As a New Yorker, one of us benefits from state leaders who protect the right to an abortion, no matter who sits in the White House or on the Supreme Court. Yet not everyone in New York has equal access to that right. Even if you can find money for the abortion — a big “if” — you may not be able to take time off from work or afford childcare or transportation.

By contrast, one of us lives in Missouri, where there is only one abortion provider in the entire state because politicians have eroded abortion access. Senior Missouri health officials even admit to tracking our menstrual cycles on a spreadsheet to control our access to health care — the latest in a long history of surveillance of our reproductive health choices. If you have the means, sure, you can hop over to Illinois or another neighboring state for an abortion. But the gap between rights and access — rooted in systemic racism and misogyny, and fueled by white supremacy — respects no borders.

The right to access abortion — particularly for many of our friends and family who are black, Indigenous, people of color, transgender, or gender non-conforming — is a right in name only, no matter which state they live in.

This tale of two worlds is created by who we elect to state houses and who holds the governor’s veto power. It’s the state politicians behind voter suppression, racial gerrymandering, so-called sanctuary cities and bathroom bills that target black and brown voters of all gender identities. Those same politicians are also responsible for passing laws meant to take control of our reproductive health care decisions.

This is not a coincidence. Abortion restrictions are also inherently racist and designed to work in tandem with other oppressive policies to disenfranchise people of color — people like us.

A staggering 480 state abortion restrictions enacted since 2011 effectively amount to abortion bans for people with low incomes, people of color, and young people who cannot afford to travel long distances or pay out-of-pocket for care. The very politicians who built our country’s racist and oppressive systems, and then dismantled inner-city and rural infrastructure, targeted these communities in a game of power and control.

This November, our lives are on the ballot. For people in black and brown communities, this election is critical. And it’s time to send a message to the white-supremacist patriarchy, hellbent on taking away our rights and freedoms: Your time is up. Our collective ability to be equal, live freely, and achieve our dreams starts with our ability to secure reproductive freedom. Yes, that means voting Trump out of office. It also means changing the face of power in our state legislatures and governors’ offices.

That’s why Planned Parenthood advocacy and political organizations and Planned Parenthood supporters are organizing this year at the local level to flip our state legislative and governor seats in favor of reproductive health champions who will actually fight for, and expand, our rights. State leadership is vital to our future. In Illinois, pro-reproductive health majorities enacted laws to protect abortion rights for generations, regardless of who sits in the White House. In Virginia, decades of harmful abortion restrictions are now wiped from the books. This is the world we’re fighting for.

Forget the stereotypes you’ve heard. Latino and Asian Americans, the rapidly growing 43 million eligible voters, recognize that we are stronger when we stand in solidarity with Black and Indigenous people — some of whom face struggles for reproductive freedom that we don’t.

Our ballots will look different in every state, but one thing will be the same: our responsibility. We must be armed with the knowledge of who will fight to protect and expand access to reproductive health care in our state houses, and who won’t. We cannot accept a political system divided into two worlds, in which zip codes, state borders, or skin color determines rights and freedoms. This November, we decide.


The biases of poverty, sex and race have always motivated reproductive policing. Pictured: A Eugenics Society poster from the 1930s. (Wikimedia Commons)

Throughout the process of writing Policing The Womb: Invisible Women and the Criminalization of Motherhood, I struggled to understand what accounts for this period of policing the womb, the vileness directed at women, and the various indignities cast upon indigent women by the state. I filled notepad after notepad with names and stories.

Among the many disturbing narratives was that of 12 women sodomized and raped by police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who literally policed and terrorized their bodies. He raped one of his victims while she was handcuffed to a hospital bed. She testified that she had to think about survival while he raped her. Another victim was underage.

According to the lawsuits,

“Holtzclaw’s actions were part of a common pattern and practice of sexually assaulting middle-aged African American females whom he identified as vulnerable to his sexual abuse and whom he believed would either be reluctant or unwilling to come forward or who would not be believed if they did come forward.”

These women were not policed because of pregnancy or the potential to become pregnant, but because of their race, poverty and sex. It is these very biases—poverty, sex and race—that motivate reproductive policing. 

On the one hand, this is nothing new; Black women experienced reproductive horrors during chattel slavery, and in many cases their reproductive rights barely improved during Jim Crow, when eugenics policies resulted in coercive state sterilizations—so much so that in Mississippi forced sterilization against Black women became known as the “Mississippi Appendectomy.”

Dr. Marion Sims notoriously lacerated, punctured and then sutured the uteruses of the enslaved women he kept at his home.

Sims regularly tortured Black women he rented as human research subjects, nightly lacerating their wombs and conducting experiments, denying them anesthesia in the process. He was doubtful of their ability to experience pain.

Today he is hailed as the “father of gynecology,” and the namesake of many gynecological devices, like the Sims vaginal speculum—though several petitions now call for them to be renamed. And until recently, a statue of him adorned Central Park in New York City. (Unsurprisingly, in 2017 someone spray-painted the word “racist” on said statue, months before its subsequent removal.)

Why We Need A Reproductive Justice New Deal or Bill of Rights

Dr. Sims’s statue in Central Park has been removed, but a Sims momument in Columbia, S.C. (pictured) remains. (Wikimedia Commons)

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Mere years after slavery’s abolition, American lawmakers launched an aggressive assault on poor women through eugenics laws, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell.  In that 1927 decision, the Supreme Court claimed:

“Three generations of imbeciles are enough … It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.”

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, author of the Court’s opinion wrote:

“The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.”

The Third Reich in Nazi Germany learned from this, borrowing directly from the Virginia eugenics law upheld by the Supreme Court.  This is how the Germans started their eugenics efforts.  In fact, Joseph S. DeJarnette, superintendent at a Virginia hospital, lamented “the Germans are beating us at our own game.”

Fitter family contests took place throughout the U.S., with families lining up throughout the country to show that they were “fit.”  States gave awards to white families that could prove their “fitness.”

For the victims—poor white women, Indigenous womenLatinas and Black women—this was state-sponsored terrorism.

Even in the 1970s, states continued to carry out these practices.   In 1974, Alabama sterilized sisters Mary Alice and Minnie Relf, aged 14 and 12 respectively. Years later, a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of the Relf sisters revealed that federally funded programs sterilized 100,000 to 150,000 people each year. Clearly, some of those sterilizations may have been voluntary, but the majority were likely facilitated through coercive means.

In Puerto Rico, it is estimated that one-third of its female population was sterilized.  So common it was called, “la operación” (the operation).

It’s unknown how many American women in total suffered this fate—or continue to, as Buck v. Bell was never overturned. For example, a 2013 legislative report conducted by California’s state auditor Elaine Howe found “numerous illegal surgeries and violations of the state’s informed-consent law.”  The investigator reported that nearly 150 women were sterilized while incarcerated in California prisons during the period 2006–2010.

In a letter to former Governor Jerry Brown, Howe wrote that in some instances, women were sterilized without physicians signing the forms or certifying the competency of the women or that they understood the lasting effects of the procedure. In other instances, the state’s correction office ignored the state’s waiting period before the sterilizations could take place.

At least 25 percent of the California prison sterilizations in the 2000s occurred without any lawful consent and the “‘true number’ of illegal procedures might be higher,” according to the audit, because “records were lost in a routine purging.”

It’s Time for Congress to Enact a Reproductive Justice Bill of Rights

This week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for an investigation of the Department of Homeland Security after a whistle-blower complaint about forced sterilizations among women in at an ICE detention center.  An investigation is urgently needed.  But, for members of Congress who claim this would never happen in the U.S.  History proves them wrong.

Importantly, it is for the reasons above that I also call on Speaker Pelosi and members of Congress to enact a Reproductive Justice Bill of Rights or New Deal. American lawmakers as well as judges should be accountable to the girls and women of our nation.

And it’s not just eugenics that makes this moment urgent for a reproductive justice bill of rights: It’s also the attacks on sex education in school, including mandating harmful, abstinence only instruction; the rollbacks on contraceptive access; high rates of unaddressed maternal mortality; threats to abortion access, including during the pandemic; and slashing of funding associated with breast and cervical care screening—among other assaults.

And given the high rates of women’s mass incarceration in the United States, we need a reproductive justice bill of rights, because of extensive medical neglect women experience in America’s prisons and jails.

Importantly, the reason for a reproductive justice bill of rights is because without it, we continue to risk the gravest atrocities carried out with the official endorsement of the state on women and girls in the United States.


It’s time to put to rest the myth that abortion hurts women.

A new book, “The Turnaway Study,” adds essential data and perspective to the ongoing debate over abortion.

For decades, anti-abortion activists have argued that abortion is harmful to women, claiming that it often leads to regret, mental health issues and dependence on drugs and alcohol. Even former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy bought into this reasoning, writing in 2007 that those who have abortions may experience “severe depression” and a loss of self-esteem.

That thinking has been used to justify onerous abortion restrictions, such as long waiting periods, that can make it harder to obtain the procedure and even effectively bar it for some.

But does abortion actually harm women? And what of those who are denied a desired abortion? How might their mental health be impacted by a forced pregnancy? These questions are at the heart of research done by Diana Greene Foster, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco in the obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences department.

Foster has spent the past 10 years investigating the outcomes for women who had or were denied abortions, tracking their emotional, physical and economic health. To get the most accurate picture, she compared women who obtained an abortion just before the gestational deadline to women who were too late to the clinic and were turned away. The difference between the two groups was often a matter of days.

The results of Foster’s study, aptly named The Turnaway Study, were recently published in a book with the same title. Among her findings: Abortion did not increase women’s risk of having suicidal thoughts or their chances of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem or lower life satisfaction. Nor did it increase women’s use of alcohol, tobacco or drugs. Women who got the abortions they wanted were more likely to have a positive outlook on the future; 95% said abortion was the right decision for them.

The outlook for women who were denied an abortion was less cheery. They were more likely to live below the federal poverty level and to be unemployed. They struggled more than their counterparts to afford basic necessities like food, housing and transportation. They were more likely to stay in contact with violent partners. And they experienced more serious health problems.

Foster’s findings are particularly relevant now, as the coronavirus pandemic, the economic downturn and ongoing efforts to restrict abortion access have made the procedure even more difficult for many to obtain.

HuffPost’s interview with Foster has been edited for clarity and length.

Why did you begin this project?

It really came from wanting to test the idea that abortion hurts women, which is an idea that is circulated widely and promoted by anti-abortion advocates. It is important not just to ask the question of whether abortion hurts women, but also how does restricting access to abortion affect women? There have been hundreds of restrictions in just the past 10 years. So, knowing and understanding the effect of those seems extremely important.

How was the study conducted? It sounds like you relied on clinic staff to connect you to patients. 

Exactly. If they were going to turn a woman away, they would give her all the normal counseling and then say, “By the way, there’s a study out of UCSF which will ask you about your health and well-being for the next five years. Might you be interested?” If the woman said yes, they would put them on the phone with us.

Then they would approach the next two women who received an abortion just under the gestational limit to see if they would participate. We followed them over time to ask them about their physical health, mental health, economic well-being and achievement of other life plans.

The leading cause of showing up to a clinic later in pregnancy is not realizing you’re pregnant. That can be a marker of a chaotic life, but it also can happen to lots of people, like women who just had a baby, young women who’ve never had regular periods, women with chronic health conditions that have similar symptoms as for pregnancy.

[Entering the study, the groups of those who received abortions and those who didn’t] were very similar. They don’t have different emotional profiles.

Why did women say they were seeking abortions? 

The reasons women sought abortions in this study are very similar to national data on why women have abortions: They didn’t have enough money, had partner-related reasons, needed to focus on other kids, or they believed it would interfere with other future opportunities.

What was surprising was not the reasons they gave, but how prescient they were in predicting the outcome of the people who were denied. So they’re worried about not being financially prepared, and we see that they become poor. They worry that their relationship isn’t strong enough to support a child, and we see that relationships dissolve whether or not they have the baby. They say they need to focus on other kids, and we see that their existing kids do worse when they are denied an abortion than receive it.

One of the main goals of the study was to find out if abortion hurts women. Does it?

No. We don’t find evidence of any systematic pattern of worse mental health for women who receive an abortion compared to those who are denied. We don’t find evidence that abortion hurts women, but there are several ways in which being denied an abortion hurts women.

When the government takes an active role in trying to prevent people from getting abortions, it has serious consequences for their lives ― for their physical health, for their economic well-being and for their life trajectory. This meddling in people’s decision-making is really short-sighted. They’re focused on this one pregnancy and not the woman’s well-being or her existing children.

One of the interesting findings was about domestic violence. Can you elaborate on that? 

One in 20 women had reported that they experienced violence from the man involved in the pregnancy in the months prior to becoming pregnant. The difference between women who receive an abortion and those who are denied is that those who receive an abortion see a sharp drop-off in exposure to that guy, whereas the women who don’t receive an abortion have ongoing contact and a higher risk of experiencing violence. Over time, the relationships dissolve and eventually the women extricate themselves, but it is years of continued violence, whereas getting an abortion might have enabled her to get away.

What was the most surprising thing you found? 

The most surprising thing was that two women denied abortions died from childbirth and pregnancy, which is a shockingly high rate of maternal mortality, much higher than we would have expected, and a total tragedy.

The other thing that was surprising was just how widespread the effects are. It’s not just the woman’s life, it’s her kids, it’s her future kids, it’s her relationships.

Was there anything that came up in this study that you did not get to research thoroughly or that you think deserves more research?

I wish we’d asked about whether people were trans men. We had the inclusion criteria of just pregnant women so I don’t know if there were trans men who would have participated but didn’t think they were eligible. We also restricted the study to exclude people seeking abortions for fetal anomaly. I should have included them just to understand more about their experience. It’s a separate study, but it really should be done.

How do you hope your research is used? 

Our debate about abortion is too abstract. We don’t consider the real people who are involved in it. I would love for people to read the book to have a little glimpse into the lives of people who are in the position of being pregnant when they don’t want to be. There are clear policy implications of putting restrictions in place that slow people down and prevent them from being able to get an abortion if they feel like they need one. I’d like to see a little more compassion.


Their claims are at odds with medicine and science.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz recently claimed that “pregnancy is not a life-threatening illness.” Childbirth is 14 times more likely to end in death than abortion is.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Abortion rights opponents understand that medication abortion is the future of abortion care, which explains their escalating and coordinated campaign to make it impossible to access.

Senate Republicans intensified the battle earlier this month when they sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration urging the agency to take a widely used abortion drug completely off the market.

The request effectively asks the FDA to ban medication abortion entirely.

The group of 20 senators argued that the drug, mifepristone, poses an “imminent hazard to public health” and should be classified as such by the FDA, eliminating its legal use in the United States. Seventy-two lawmakers in the House of Representatives penned a similar letter the same day.

They are at least the second and third letters of their kind in a little more than a year: In May 2019, over 100 anti-choice members of Congress applauded the FDA for sending a cease and desist to Aid Access, a telemedicine site operated by a Netherlands-based doctor who prescribes mifepristone to patients in the United States.

Since then, lawmakers and anti-abortion groups have continued to call for the agency to crack down on websites selling the drug online; now they’re pressuring the agency to ban the medication outright, and with it a method of abortion early in pregnancy that accounts for about 40 percent of abortions.

These most recent appeals to the FDA arrive just as restrictions on mifepristone have been temporarily eased, and a new battlefront in the medication abortion wars has emerged. In July, a federal judge ruled that the FDA’s longtime requirement that the drug only be dispensed at a hospital or clinic could be suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic because the requirements unduly burdened abortion rights by forcing patients to make unnecessary trips to pick up medication that could easily be delivered to them at home.

In response, the Trump administration filed an emergency request to the Supreme Court to have the rule reinstated because the requirements “mitigate serious health risks associated with the drug,” echoing fellow conservatives’ unsubstantiated claims that the drug is so dangerous it needs to be highly regulated and perhaps removed from the marketplace altogether. The Supreme Court has not yet decided if it will take up the Trump administration’s emergency request to reinstate in-person requirements for dispensing medication abortion.

Reproductive health advocates see anti-choice lawmakers and Trump administration officials as working in tandem to sway a federal agency that might be sympathetic to their position, hoping that if they succeed, a new FDA classification of mifepristone will be difficult for their pro-choice opponents to undo.

“I think there’s a sense that it’s important to do something about medication abortion because of its increasing relevance,” said Mary Ziegler, a professor at the Florida State University College of Law who specializes in the legal history of reproductive health. “Part of the value of going through the FDA is that the decision they come to might be more insulated from challenges.”

Ziegler said anti-choice leaders aim to achieve this by attempting to cast doubt on the safety and effectiveness of mifepristone, framing their efforts to curb access as concern for women’s health. But their claims are at odds with medicine and science, according to experts who study the drug, which was approved by the FDA in 2000.

“We know from more than 20 years of research that mifepristone is extremely safe,” said Ushma Upadhyay, an associate professor at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, a research group at the University of California, San Francisco. In a 2015 study of 11,000 medication abortions, less than one-third of 1 percent of patients experienced complications requiring hospital care. And over the two decades the drug has been on the market, there have been just 14 deaths.

“Pregnancy and childbirth aren’t safer than abortion,” Upadhyay continued, referencing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s recent claim that “pregnancy is not a life-threatening illness.” “Childbirth is 14 times more likely to end in death [than abortion is],” she said.

Advocates only expect attacks on medication abortion to ramp up, especially as this method of early abortion becomes more widely used and thus more normalized. For these reasons—as well as for reasons having to do with the drug’s safety profile—they believe it will be difficult for their anti-choice opponents to succeed in persuading the FDA to recall mifepristone. And even if they did, it would be nearly impossible to completely eliminate access to it: Many people obtain the drug by buying it on the internet.

“In the era we live in it would be really hard to eliminate access to it,” Zeigler said. “Part of the revived interest in medication abortion [among anti-choice leaders] has been a sense that it may be the future of first trimester abortion and abortion period.”

Still, the efforts to further restrict—or completely eliminate—the drug will have immediate consequences for people who need abortions. A spokesperson from NARAL Pro-Choice America said dispelling misinformation about medication abortion is “increasingly an organizational priority” for the group.

“People who need access to abortion care may not have the complete picture or all the info to make the best decision for their circumstances,” said Kristin Ford, NARAL’s national communications director. “We think it’s really important to counter their false claims and inoculate against their disinformation.”

And in the current policy environment—one where attacks on reproductive rights have become both more frequent and more extreme—advocates can’t discount the possibility that anti-abortion activists will find a way to realize their vision, especially if Donald Trump wins a second term in the White House.

“We used to think birth control was a non-issue, but then people started saying, ‘They’re coming for your pill,’ and yeah, they are actually,” Rachel Jones, Guttmacher Institute’s principal research scientist, said. “Unfortunately even though science is on our side, we have to take these threats seriously.”


The Trump administration could force abortion patients to have unnecessary surgeries.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh arrive to hear President Donald Trump deliver the State of the Union address in the House chamber on February 4, 2020, in Washington, DC. Leah Millis/Getty Images

Last June, Chief Justice John Roberts provided a brief reprieve to abortion providers — joining his liberal colleagues in striking down a Louisiana anti-abortion law. But that reprieve could be very short-lived: A case now before the justices could give them a vehicle to undercut the right to terminate a pregnancy.

If the Trump administration gets its way in Food and Drug Administration v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologiststhe Supreme Court could force many patients seeking abortions to undergo unnecessary surgeries, despite the fact that those patients could safely terminate their pregnancy with medication — and that’s assuming that these individuals are able to find a doctor to perform the surgery in the first place.

The case turns on whether the courts should relax long-standing FDA-imposed restrictions on the drug mifepristone, which is commonly used in medication abortions, in order to make the drug easier to obtain during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the short term, a victory for the Trump administration would leave in place long-standing rules requiring health providers to dispense mifepristone to abortion patients in person. During ordinary times, this restriction imposes a fairly minor burden on such patients. But, as explained below, the same restriction could potentially prevent many pregnant individuals from obtaining an abortion altogether while the pandemic still rages.

Any time the Roberts Court hears an abortion case, moreover, the abortion right is at risk — because a majority of the Supreme Court is skeptical of whether that right should exist in the first place. Indeed, if the Court follows the path laid out in the Trump administration’s brief in American College, many abortion patients could lose access to the safest form of abortion.

Roberts’s decision to invalidate the Louisiana law in June Medical Services v. Russo (2020) was a somewhat surprising development, as Roberts has fairly consistently opposed abortion rights during his career on the bench. But June Medical was also a very narrow victory for abortion advocates.

The chief justice’s opinion turned on the fact that the Louisiana law at issue in June Medical was nearly identical to a Texas law the Court struck down just four years earlier. Roberts spent much of his June Medical opinion explaining why he disagrees with many of his Court’s decisions protecting abortion, and even dropping hints about how anti-abortion advocates can help undermine abortion rights in the future.

June Medical, in other words, turned out the way it did because abortion opponents brought the weakest possible case to the Supreme Court — a case that was in all relevant respects indistinguishable from another case that the Court recently decided. The new case pending before the justices, Food and Drug Administration v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, does not suffer from similar weaknesses.

There are several reasons to suspect that Roberts will return to his anti-abortion roots in American College. Even if this were not an abortion case, and even if Roberts were not typically opposed to abortion rights, Roberts has urged courts to defer to public health officials during the pandemic. He’s unlikely to support a lower court decision that disagreed with the FDA’s judgment regarding a drug used in abortions.

And, with four other anti-abortion justices on the Supreme Court, if Roberts does flip back to the anti-abortion side in American College, that will almost certainly be enough to form a majority.

What’s at stake in American College?

Mifepristone, the drug at the center of American College, is part of a two-drug regimen used to induce abortion. Mifepristone causes pregnancy tissue and the lining of the uterus to break down and separate from the uterus itself. About a day or two after taking mifepristone, the patient takes a second drug, misoprostol, which causes uterine contractions and expels the uterus’s contents.

Although patients may take mifepristone at home, the FDA only permits this drug to be distributed at hospitals, clinics, or medical offices — meaning that it cannot be dispensed by a retail or mail-order pharmacy. Thus, at a time when many health providers are moving toward telemedicine to protect themselves and their patients from the coronavirus, abortion providers and their patients must risk in-person contact.

The limit on who can dispense the drug stretches back to when mifepristone was originally approved by the FDA in 2000, while Bill Clinton was president. The FDA also reviewed its restrictions on mifepristone in 2011, 2013, and 2016 — all during the Obama administration — and it left the requirement that the drug be dispensed by health care providers in place.

But while this requirement imposes a relatively minor burden on people seeking abortions during normal times, it is significantly more burdensome during the coronavirus pandemic. Many clinics have either closed or reduced the number of patients who are allowed to visit, in order to reduce the spread of Covid-19. But that means that fewer patients are able to obtain mifepristone at those clinics.

Meanwhile, patients may be afraid to travel to a clinic — especially if they rely on public transportation — because of the risk that they could be exposed to the coronavirus during this trip. As one expert witness testified in the American College case, the requirement that drugs be dispensed in-person “unnecessarily increases the infection risk for patients, their families, health care professionals, and the larger communities in which they work and live.”

The FDA, moreover, has relaxed similar restrictions on other drugs unrelated to abortion during the pandemic, but it has not made such accommodation for mifepristone. As the plaintiffs note in their brief, the FDA has taken “‘extraordinary actions’ to reduce viral transmission by suspending in-person requirements for drugs, including potentially lethal controlled substances like opioids, and urging the use of telemedicine ‘whenever possible.’” Yet it’s left the in-person dispensing restriction in place for mifepristone.

In light of all of these factors, a federal trial court held that the requirement that mifepristone must be dispensed in-person to patients by health providers should be suspended until 30 days after the end of the public health emergency triggered by Covid-19.

“The In-Person Requirements impose a substantial obstacle to abortion patients seeking medication abortion care,” wrote Judge Theodore D. Chuang. As Chuang noted, the dual barriers raised by the pandemic and the in-person requirements “delay abortion patients from receiving a medication abortion, which can either increase the health risk to them or, in light of the ten-week limit on the Mifepristone-Misoprostol Regimen, prevent them from receiving a medication abortion at all.”

After a federal appeals court refused to block Judge Chuang’s order, the Trump administration went to the Supreme Court, seeking a stay of that order. And, if that stay is granted, it could send a very clear signal to lower court judges that the right to an abortion should not be robustly enforced.

The Trump administration says it’s fine to restrict medication abortions so long as patients can have unnecessary surgeries

The low-water mark for abortion rights, at least after Roe v. Wade (1973), was the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Gonzales v. Carhart.

Prior to Gonzales, the Court applied a strong presumption against abortion restrictions that might endanger patient health. As the Court held in Stenberg v. Carhart (2000), “where substantial medical authority supports the proposition that banning a particular abortion procedure could endanger women’s health,” a ban on a particular abortion procedure must “include a health exception when the procedure is ‘necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.’”

But Gonzales upheld a federal ban on an abortion procedure known as intact dilation and extraction, despite the fact that the federal ban did not include an exception protecting “the life or health of the mother.” Rather, Gonzales held that state and federal lawmakers have “wide discretion to pass legislation in areas where there is medical and scientific uncertainty.”

Thus, if physicians disagree about whether intact dilation and extraction is ever necessary to protect the health of a patient, Congress can resolve this disagreement in favor of a ban on the procedure.

Significantly, Gonzales also noted that the ban on intact dilation and extraction did not prohibit another “commonly used and generally accepted method” of abortion that could be used as an alternative to intact dilation and extraction. Thus, the Court reasoned, a ban on this one particular method of abortion “does not construct a substantial obstacle to the abortion right” because patients could still obtain a different form of abortion.

The Trump administration wants to turn this line in Gonzales into a rule that would block many abortion patients from obtaining the safest method of abortion. According to the Trump administration’s brief, restrictions on the use of mifepristone are appropriate — even if those restrictions effectively prevent many pregnant individuals from receiving a medication abortion altogether — because these patients could still have surgical abortions.

The in-person dispensing requirement, the Trump administration argues, has “no effect on the availability of surgical abortions, a method that this Court has treated as safe for women.” Thus, they claim, the fact that another (far more invasive) means of obtaining an abortion is available means that the FDA is free to impose restrictions on medication abortion. So long as surgical abortions are available, the American College plaintiffs cannot attack restrictions on medical abortion “simply because [they] would prefer another alternative.”

That’s an aggressive reading of the Court’s decision in Gonzales. As the plaintiffs explain in their brief, the thrust of their case is that “patients incur grave COVID-19 risk by engaging in unnecessary travel and physical proximity to other people as a condition of obtaining” a medication abortion. But those same patients face even more risk if they are forced to “travel to a health center for a more invasive procedure” such as a surgical abortion.

And that’s assuming that these patients are even able to obtain a surgical abortion in the first place. Many clinics are already operating at reduced capacity due to the pandemic and have reduced the number of surgeries they perform as a result. These already stressed clinics are unlikely to be able to accommodate a rush of patients seeking surgeries in lieu of a medication abortion.

Nevertheless, it’s likely that this Supreme Court — with its conservative Republican majority — will, at the very least, give very serious consideration to the Trump administration’s arguments.

Moreover, when the administration seeks a stay of a lower court order, the justices typically decide whether to grant that request fairly quickly, and without oral arguments or full briefing. That means that the Court could potentially hold that the government may block patients from receiving medication abortions — and force these patients to have more invasive surgical procedures or to give up their right to terminate their pregnancy — as soon as this week.

Roberts is likely to uphold the restrictions on mifepristone, but it’s unclear if he’ll go as far as the Trump administration wants him to go

In June Medical, the four most conservative justices all voted to uphold Louisiana’s attempt to shut down many of its abortion clinics. Those four justices are almost certain to support additional restrictions on the right to an abortion. Meanwhile, the four liberal justices are typically fairly protective of abortion rights.

That leaves Roberts, who almost always votes with his conservative colleagues in abortion cases (among other things, Roberts joined the majority in Gonzales), as the closest thing to a swing vote in American College.

There’s good reason to believe that Roberts is likely to uphold the in-person restrictions on mifepristone. Indeed, there’s good reason to believe that Roberts is likely to uphold any similar restriction on a drug, regardless of whether that drug is used in abortions.

For one thing, Roberts has advised courts to defer to public health officials during the Covid-19 pandemic, even when those officials take steps that implicate constitutional rights. In South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom (2020), Roberts broke with his fellow conservatives to uphold a California public health order limiting the number of people who could gather in a place of worship.

“The precise question of when restrictions on particular social activities should be lifted during the pandemic is a dynamic and fact-intensive matter subject to reasonable disagreement,” Roberts wrote in his South Bay opinion. He added that “our Constitution principally entrusts ‘[t]he safety and the health of the people’ to the politically accountable officials of the States ‘to guard and protect.’”

A similar logic could apply in American College. That is, the task of determining whether it is safe to obtain mifepristone via a mail-order pharmacy, or some other method, is left to the FDA. And, if plaintiffs disagree with that judgment, courts should defer to the FDA.

Roberts, moreover, joined the Gonzales majority, with its conclusion that the government has “wide discretion” to restrict abortion in areas “where there is medical and scientific uncertainty.”

To be sure, the primary plaintiff in the American College case is the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an organization with an unusual amount of credibility to opine on whether medical uncertainty exists in a particular case. But the College also believed that doctors should be allowed to perform intact dilation and extraction prior to Gonzales, and the Court did not defer to the College’s judgment in that case.

There is good reason to suspect, in other words, that Roberts is likely to resolve a disagreement between the FDA and the College regarding how to safely dispense mifepristone in favor of the government agency.

That said, the fact that the FDA is likely to prevail in American College does not mean that Roberts will go so far as to declare that medication abortions can effectively be banned so long as surgical abortions are available. For one thing, when the Court stays a lower court decision, it often does so in a brief order that does not explain the majority’s reasoning. So even if Roberts agrees with the Trump administration’s arguments, he may not write those arguments into a binding opinion.

If the Court does produce a majority opinion, moreover, there’s no guarantee that Roberts will embrace the broad new restriction on abortion rights proposed by the Trump administration. He could dispose of this case in a relatively narrow opinion holding that courts should defer to public health officials during the pandemic, much like the Supreme Court did in South Bay.

But the fact remains that the Court has five justices who are broadly skeptical of abortion rights. So any time an abortion case reaches the Supreme Court, the Court’s Republican majority could potentially use that case to cut back on the right to terminate a pregnancy — or even to eliminate the right altogether.


Those on the new Trump Supreme Court shortlist have displayed open hostility to civil and human rights. Pictured: Outside the Supreme Court to call for the reversal of President Trump’s travel ban in January 2017. (Lorie Shaull / Flickr)

Over the next few years, there could be numerous vacancies on the Supreme Court. And Donald Trump is desperately trying to curry favor with the extremist wing of his party (and distract from bombshell reporting) by issuing a list of new picks for a potential Supreme Court vacancy.

As it turns out, his new additions are cut from the same cloth as his previous picks. He wants the Court to be his—but it’s ours.

Trump has already installed two Supreme Court Justices and more than 200 judges to lifetime appointments on federal district and circuit courts—many of whom have made our worst nightmares a reality.

We at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights opposed many of these judges because of their hostility to our civil and human rights and to equal justice for all of us. And now, on the bench, they have pursued Trump’s backwards agenda to dismantle the progress we have made on everything from access to health care to voting rights.

Trump’s own declarations about exactly who he would select for the Supreme Court make his agenda crystal clear: He has said that he would only select people who will curtail reproductive rights and strip health care away from millions of Americans.

And the careers of those on the shortlist remind us that their past records are a prologue. Many have led the way in reversing progress on our civil and human rights—having defended some of the most extreme voting rights restrictions, advocated for the courts to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, attacked LGBTQ people’s dignity and rights, and so much more.

The administration is now looking to secure more of the same Trumpian brand of conservatism with this updated list. Should Trump fill any Supreme Court vacancies, he would further cement an enduring legacy that will outlast his presidency for decades to come.

We will bear the brunt well into the 21st century.

Trump added the most far-right Republican senators to his shortlist, including Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)—joining the likes of Mike Lee (R-Utah) who was on his previous shortlist.

The Supreme Court Belongs to Us—Not Trump

Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). (Gage Skidmore + Natureofthought)

Tom Cotton shamelessly tweeted moments after this announcement: “It’s time for Roe v. Wade to go.”

Their agenda for the courts is driven by the policy change they want to permanently see but know they cannot implement legislatively.

Other new additions, like Sarah Pitlyk, are beholden to the anti-reproductive freedom movement having defended unconstitutional abortion bans, challenged in-vitro fertilization and surrogacy, called on the Supreme Court to “revisit” Roe, and argued against contraceptive access.

The Supreme Court Belongs to Us—Not Trump

(Planned Parenthood Action / Facebook)

Lawrence VanDyke, who Trump plucked to serve in a Nevada seat on the Ninth Circuit despite nearly no ties to the state, refused to affirm that he would be fair to LGBTQ people in his courtroom.

In fact, VanDyke’s peers raised concerns about this as reflected in the American Bar Association’s review when they rated him Not Qualified.

Another shortlister, Greg Katsas, was put on the D.C. Circuit after serving in Trump’s White House Counsel’s office. Katsas was personally involved in some of the most egregious actions by the Trump administration, including their discriminatory anti-LGBTQ positions.

The Supreme Court Belongs to Us—Not Trump

Greg Katsas has advanced an agenda to restrict voting rights, LGBT rights, and access to women’s health. (C-SPAN)

Kyle Duncan was the right-wing’s go-to lawyer in cases seeking to diminish the civil and constitutional rights of the LGBTQ community. Trump appointed him to a Louisiana seat on the Fifth Circuit, and since he has become a judge, his outright refusal to treat LGBTQ litigants fairly or with dignity has been on display in his cruel decisions.

Disturbingly, many of those on the new Trump Supreme Court shortlist have advocated for efforts that restrict voting rights. For example, Katsas and Duncan defended voter suppression efforts that targeted Black and Brown voters. Their confirmations to the Supreme Court would all but ensure that the highest court in the land is weaponized as a central component of Trump’s assault on our democracy.

We know Trump also expects his judges to be loyal to him. He has promoted those, like Katsas, who have a troubling view that the president should be largely unchecked and that executive privilege should be expanded. Those listed lack the independence we expect and demand of our judges and justices.

Finally, Trump is actively campaigning to gut the Affordable Care Act while knowingly lying to the American public about the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic that has already cost nearly 200,000 lives. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on November 10 to consider a Republican-led lawsuit seeking to declare the ACA unconstitutional. The stakes are incredibly high, and installing one more Trump loyalist on the Supreme Court would deny millions who depend on health care access a fair day in court.

Feminists at the Supreme Court in support of the Affordable Care Act in 2016 during oral arguments in a case seeking to weaken its contraceptive coverage mandate. (Victoria Pickering / Creative Commons)

With Trump taking us back to the despicable days when all people were not considered equal, and with our hard-fought rights and future in peril—and very much on the ballot—we must put an end to Trump’s court takeover. The Supreme Court belongs to us, not Trump.


When they reconvened last month, state lawmakers, who should be preoccupied with addressing systemic racism and police violence that sparked state and nation wide uprisings, are instead attacking reproductive freedom.

Last month, it was a medically-unfounded bill based on the false premise of abortion “reversal,” which came on the heels of unsuccessfully attempting to use the coronavirus to block abortion access — actions so outrageous that United Nations experts accused Tennessee of committing human rights violations by infringing on reproductive rights and endangering women’s health.

And that was before Monday, when Gov. Lee signed one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, which a federal judge quickly blocked.

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New polling data show that attempts to limit reproductive health decisions are at odds with voters’ views. Among Black women in Tennessee, nearly all of those surveyed (95%) say a woman’s ability to control whether or not she has children is an important part of financial stability for herself and her family.

However, due to structural inequality and systemic racism, Black women in Tennessee make only 68 cents for every dollar a white man makes, meaning a Black woman will have to work until age 79 to make what a white man makes when he retires at 65.

Working towards reproductive freedoms

Mirroring national data showing strong support for abortion rights among the general public, Black women in Tennessee overwhelmingly support protecting abortion access. Nearly three quarters (72%) of those surveyed said they think abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

When thinking about a woman who has decided to have an abortion, majorities say the experience should be: as simple as possible (78%), respectful of the decision (78%), affordable (77%) and available in the person’s community (73%).

Black women must weigh a variety of additional factors when making reproductive health and parenting decisions.

A majority of respondents said they based personal decisions on whether to parent on: access to living-wage jobs (60%), affordable health care (53%), food security (51%), affordable housing (50%), child care access (49%), over-policing (38%) and racism (55%).

Plainly stated: Controlling our reproductive lives is about more than abortion; it’s about dismantling the systemic racism that prevents us from having the resources to raise our families in abundance, dignity and safety.

Over-policing, poverty, housing and food insecurity, low-resourced schools and disparate healthcare access impacts are all barriers to reproductive freedom for Black and pregnant women.

Reproductive Justice demands the human right to control our bodies, our sexuality, gender, work and reproduction.

This requires not just overturning harmful reproductive health restrictions, but proactively demanding legal protections and societal change that address the health, safety and wellbeing of Black women and our families in all areas of our lives.

Black women are the best informed to make decisions about our health and wellness, not politicians.

Tennessee’s conservative elected officials are woefully out of touch with the needs of Black women and families. Black women voters must turn out in November to send a strong message:

The entirety of our Black lives matter, and we expect our elected officials to finally center our needs and values if they want our votes.

Marcela Howell is CEO and president of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda. You can follow her work on Twitter at @BlackWomensRJ. 

Cherisse Scott is the founder and CEO of SisterReach. You can follow her work on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram at @SisterReach. 


On Tuesday, Republican senator Ted Cruz proudly announced his efforts to erode access to one of the safest medical procedures in the world, by attempting to get the abortion pill banned. “Pregnancy is not a life-threatening illness, and the abortion pill does not cure or prevent any disease,” he tweeted. “Make no mistake, Mifeprex is a dangerous pill. That’s why 20 of my Republican colleagues and I are urging the FDA to classify it as such.”

The previous day, this group of Republicans had mailed a letter to the Food and Drug Administration, calling on the agency to “classify the abortion pill as an ‘imminent hazard to the public health’ that poses a ‘significant threat of danger’ and remove this pill from the U.S. market,” despite overwhelming evidence that the abortion pill is safe.

Cruz’s tweet was met with immediate outrage, coming as it does in the middle of a grievous maternal mortality crisis. America has been called “the most dangerous place in the developed world to deliver a baby.” According to CDC data, in 2018, the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. was 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, by far the highest in any developed nation. And for Black women, the rate is twice as high: 37.1 deaths per 100,000 live births. Every year, approximately 800 women in the U.S. die during pregnancy and within 42 days after delivery, and 50,000 are “severely harmed” due to complications related to childbirth. Meanwhile, the abortion pill is known to cause complications “in no more than a fraction of a percent of patients,” according to a landmark report published in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Thousands of advocates, politicians, and those who’d experienced life-threatening pregnancy complications responded to Cruz, calling his assertion that pregnancy is “not life-threatening” ignorant and misogynistic. “I had preeclampsia — a life-threatening disease caused by pregnancy. The only cure is to no longer be pregnant,” wrote one woman.

“I had a stroke while pregnant with my son and bled out in the delivery room right after my daughter was born. If not for modern medicine and blood transfusions, I’d be dead right now. DO NOT TELL ME PREGNANCY CANNOT BE LIFE-THREATENING,” said another.

For further evidence of this, Cruz need only look to the state he represents, which boasts the highest maternal mortality rate in the country. According to a study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, in 2014, Texas’s maternal mortality rates was 35.8 per 100,000 live births. For comparison, in Japan, that number was five.


Opponents of Proposition 115 have reserved almost $1 million in TV ad time for October, while supporters have launched a social media campaign

Prepare for an onslaught of abortion debate in the next two months on social media, in the mail and on television as Colorado once again prepares to vote on an abortion measure.

A Colorado Springs-based issue committee for Proposition 115 — which would prohibit abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy — calls itself “End Birthday Abortions” and created a website picturing a cupcake with a single candle sitting on a highchair. The goal is to make people aware that Colorado is one of only seven states with no restrictions on when a woman can get an abortion, right up to the due date, campaign director Marcie Little said.

Supporters of the ban are recirculating an old photo of a woman’s large pregnant belly with a handwritten note attached: “It’s my due date today. My baby’s healthy. I’m healthy. In Colorado it’s legal for me to get an abortion today. Our legislature has failed.”

On the other side, opponents of the ballot measure launched a counterattack Wednesday with the support of 75 organizations, including the National Women’s Law Center and the Women’s Lobby. The issue committee — called Abortion Access for All — has reserved nearly $1 million in television ad time for the month of October, according to campaign filings reviewed by The Colorado Sun.

The group’s main message is that the measure would ban abortion in the second half of pregnancy, even in cases of rape, incest, health risks for the mother and when “a woman receives a lethal fetal diagnosis and her baby could not survive outside the womb,” said Stefanie Clarke, communications director for the “Vote No on 115” campaign. The group went live with a new website Wednesday that includes a section where women who have had abortions later in pregnancy can share their stories.

Similar proposals to ban abortion have failed at the legislature multiple times, and so-called “personhood” measures on the ballot were defeated in 2008, 2010 and 2014. Those ballot questions sought to define fetuses as people or children under the Colorado criminal code.

Proposition 115 will ask voters to ban abortion after 22 weeks except in cases in which the mother is at risk of dying. It would exempt pregnant women and pharmacists who violate the law from prosecution, but doctors who perform an abortion in later pregnancy could face a criminal charge — not punishable by jail time but with fines.

Clarke called this year’s measure a “sneaky, back-door” attempt to ban abortion using scare tactics, such as suggesting that women are getting abortions on what could have been their babies’ birthdays.

“There is actually no factual basis for that,” she said. “They are going to all lengths. It’s really disgusting. That is not how reproductive health care works.”

Women who choose to end their pregnancies after 22 weeks could have just learned about a severe fetal abnormality, or that their pregnancy could cause them to have a permanent disability, opponents of the measure said. In one example, shared by a doctor, the pregnant person seeking an abortion was a 12-year-old child who had been raped by a family member and concealed the pregnancy until after 22 weeks.

“Colorado voters know a ban when they see one,” Clarke said. “They do not believe politicians should interfere in anyone’s personal, private medical decisions, that these decisions should remain between doctors and patients. And just as we have previously rejected attempts to put politics in the middle of health care decisions that belong between a woman and her doctor, we will do it again in 2020.”

But proponents of the ballot measure at the End Birthday Abortions and the Due Date Too Late committees argue in their online materials that a 22-week-old fetus can feel pain, referring to various studies. The “death is excruciating and cruel,” says Due Date Too Late’s website.

The narrative that all later-pregnancy abortions happen because of medical emergencies or fatal fetal abnormalities is “fabricated by abortion rights extremists without any data in order to manipulate public opinion,” Due Date Too Late states. The committee did not respond to a request for an interview for this story.

An advertisement for The Resource Center, a Greeley pregnancy center, is posted at 10th Avenue and 20th Street next to the University of Northern Colorado campus in Greeley on Dec. 4, 2019. (Valerie Mosley, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Other facts are also in dispute between the two sides. Due Date Too Late says there were more than 300 “late-term” abortions in Colorado in 2019. But Abortion Access for All says that nationwide, only about 1% of abortions occur after 22 weeks.

The exact percentage for Colorado is unknown but is likely higher than the national average because this state has no restrictions on when during a pregnancy a woman can have an abortion.

Of the 9,002 abortions in Colorado last year, almost 1,000 were for people who traveled from other states, most likely because of Colorado’s less-restrictive laws. The three most common states were Wyoming, New Mexico and South Dakota.

Proponents of the ballot measure have multiple issue committees with slightly different messages. End Birthday Abortions is focused on the Colorado Springs area, delivering flyers door to door and using social media to explain how an abortion in later pregnancy is performed, Little said.

“One of the issues we ran into while working to get the initiative on the ballot is that a lot of people don’t understand what a late-term abortion is,” she said. “They don’t really understand how late that happens.”

The 22-week cutoff is fair, even in cases of rape, incest or fetal abnormalities, Little said. “We are talking five and a half months into the pregnancy,” she said. “That does seem to give women enough time to fully consider what they want to do.”

Despite the track record on abortion votes in Colorado, Little said she believes the campaign has a better shot this time around, in part because of the national potlical climate and also because people are more aware of abortions in later pregnancy, thanks to the sharing of videos and photos on social media.

“There is more momentum now,” she said. “It’s easier to get the word out.”

Others warn that such a law would lead to further restrictions on abortion in Colorado.

“Prop. 115 is just another in a long line of unconstitutional, unpopular and medically unnecessary attacks on abortion,” said Priya Walia at the National Women’s Law Center. “It affects all pregnant people.”

And Wendy Howell, acting state director of the Colorado Working Families Party, called the ballot measure another attempt by “politicians and special interest groups to control women’s bodies in Colorado.”

“Time and time again they have failed,” she said. “And now they are back at it.”


Mike Pence to Speak at Crisis Pregnancy Center That Falsely Claims Abortions Cause Breast Cancer

Image: Drew Angerer (Getty Images)

Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to visit an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center in North Carolina later this week, CNN reports, as part of Trump’s reelection campaign, which feels as if it has been going on for the last 57 years. The Gateway Women’s Center, which Pence is scheduled to visit, offers pregnancy and STI testing, ultrasounds, “options counseling,” and after abortion care, according to their website—all services typical of crisis pregnancy centers, which attempt to dissuade women from having abortions. GWC also posts on its website that one of the long-term physical risks of abortion is breast cancer and that the best way to avoid the risk is to carry a pregnancy to full term.

The website states:

Medical experts continue to debate the association between abortion and breast cancer. Research has shown the following:

Carrying a pregnancy to full term gives a measure of protection against breast cancer, especially a woman’s first pregnancy. Terminating a pregnancy may result in loss of that protection.

The hormones of pregnancy cause breast tissue to grow rapidly in the first 3 months, but it is not until after 32 weeks of pregnancy that breasts are relatively more cancer-resistant due to the maturation that occurs.

What the website fails to mention is that the study cited has been disproven, and there is no link between abortion and breast cancer, even though it is used as an anti-abortion scare tactic. According to the National Cancer Institute, “in 2009, the Committee on Gynecologic Practice of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists concluded that ‘more rigorous recent studies demonstrate no causal relationship between induced abortion and a subsequent increase in breast cancer risk.’” Conveniently omitting information is so… convenient.

But Pence is likely not interested in misrepresented science and is attending this anti-abortion roundtable to discuss, as the Gateway Women’s Center puts it, the “spiritual consequences” of abortion. In this section of the website, GWC tells abortion seekers to consider three essential questions before requesting service, one of which is, “How does God see your unborn child?” Notably missing from that round of questioning is how God feels about lying about the risks of a medical procedure… but I guess science is not that important when it comes to women’s reproductive health.