Leading Rights Groups Launch 'Wave of Litigation' to Protect Abortion Access

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) on Wednesday filed lawsuits to challenge abortion restrictions in three states—the first of a promised “wave of litigation” aiming to protect women’s access to healthcare around the country.

Wednesday’s lawsuits target abortion legislation in Alaska, Missouri, and North Carolina that the groups say are medically unnecessary and are reminiscent of other abortion restrictions already ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Today’s filing is a major step in the fight to ensure all women can get safe and legal abortions in their own communities, when they need them,” said CRR president and CEO Nancy Northup. “We are a nation of laws, and the center is prepared to use the full force of the law to ensure women’s fundamental rights are protected and respected.”

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In Alaska, restrictions passed more than 40 years ago ban abortion in outpatient health centers after the first trimester, which force women to travel out of state for procedures, if they are even able.

North Carolina only allows abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy in “extremely limited health emergencies,” as the CRR put it. The state defines (pdf) the health emergencies as a “condition which, in reasonable medical judgment, so complicates the medical condition of the pregnant woman as to necessitate the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert her death or for which a delay will create serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including any psychological or emotional conditions.”

And restrictions in Missouri (pdf) have forced the closure of all but one abortion clinic in the state, meaning women “from all corners” of Missouri are forced to travel 370 miles to obtain an in-state abortion, the lawsuit says.


Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, Planned Parenthood’s chief medical officer, said Wednesday, “These restrictions have a disproportionate impact on those who already face far too many barriers to health care as people of color, people who live in rural areas, or people with low incomes. These laws are dangerous, unjust, and unconstitutional—and they will come down.”

In June, the Supreme Court struck down abortion restrictions in Texas in the groundbreaking Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, ruling that two provisions of the state’s controversial 2013 law—which required abortion providers to obtain hospital admitting privileges and reproductive healthcare facilities offering abortion services to meet ambulatory surgical center standards—posed an undue burden and hindered access to reproductive rights.

The justices’ ruling reiterated that the right to choose is protected by the Constitution, stating, “We have found nothing in Texas’ record evidence that shows that…the new law advanced Texas’ legitimate interest in protecting women’s health.”

Since the ruling, abortion restrictions have been struck down or blocked in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.

“The law is clear,” wrote ACLU’s reproductive rights communications manager Jaweer Brown in a blog post on Wednesday. “States cannot ban abortion.”

The lawsuits send a clear message, Brown said. “We will continue to fight until every woman has the dignity to make decisions about her body, her family, and her future. Our bodies, our rights, and our clinics are not going anywhere.”

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