By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
Emboldened by this week's Supreme Court ruling, Planned Parenthood has launched a campaign to repeal laws in eight states it says restrict women's ability to get an abortion.
The group plans to target abortion laws in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Texas. Though portions of Texas' abortion law were found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, Planned Parenthood said the state has additional restrictions it intends to fight.
"We have spent years building the infrastructure to fight these laws. ... Getting ready for the day when we could put that plan into action," said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. "That day is now."
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that state lawmakers were placing an "undue burden" on women who seek an abortion with two key provisions of the Texas law that required doctors to obtain hospital admitting privileges and clinics to become ambulatory surgical centers.
The sweeping ruling was expected to block similar laws in about two dozen other states, including some Planned Parenthood now plans to target through legislative and legal action.
In addition to Texas, five other states have enacted laws with surgical center requirements: Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Tennessee, where the law was temporarily blocked by a judge, according to the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.
The group noted nine other states had passed laws that require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals: Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
But until this week, the laws had been blocked by the courts in all but Missouri, North Dakota and Tennessee.
On Thursday, a federal judge in Indiana blocked a state law that outlaws abortions due to fetal genetic abnormalities.
Earlier this week, following the Supreme Court ruling, Alabama's attorney general announced that he would stop pursuing an appeal of a judge's decision blocking the state's law on admitting privileges. The Supreme Court also declined to review appeals of stays on such laws in Mississippi and Wisconsin, blocking them permanently.
Legal challenges are pending to abortion laws in Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio and Tennessee.
In the eight states Planned Parenthood plans to target, it will challenge not just admitting privileges and surgical center requirements, but other abortion restrictions including limits on abortion medication, sonogram requirements and 20-week abortion bans. All eight states require women seeking abortions to wait at least 24 hours and receive counseling.
Planned Parenthood's focus this summer will be on Florida, Missouri and Virginia, said Rachel Sussman, director of state policy for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. By fall, they plan to be working with lawmakers in all eight states to repeal state abortion restrictions and craft new laws they can propose once legislative sessions begin, she said.
In Florida, Planned Parenthood will try to repeal a state law that blocks funding to abortion clinics and requires doctors to have hospital admitting privileges.
In Missouri, they will target admitting privileges and surgical center requirements.
And in Virginia, they hope to work with state legislators who have already proposed repealing similar abortion clinic restrictions.
Opponents of abortion rights say they are prepared.
"I would be surprised if they are able to accomplish anything in the legislatures," said Carol Tobias, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Right to Life Committee. "The only way the abortion industry has been able to keep abortion readily accessible is through the courts."
Tobias conceded there might be "minor changes" to state abortion laws due to the Supreme Court ruling, but said, "It's not going to be the kind of wholesale wipeout of abortion laws that they would like to see."
But in the states Planned Parenthood is targeting, other abortion rights opponents were worried.
"Let's be realistic. Currently, the situation is that we have a pro-abortion governor who has made it clear that he sides with Planned Parenthood," said Olivia Gans Turner, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life.
Gans Turner is concerned the governor will work with the state board of health to "strip the regulations completely from abortion facilities."
"They become political pawns in a debate like this," she said of the board.
While Republicans hold a majority in the state Legislature, it's slim in the Senate, and some Democratic lawmakers opposed to abortion rights have recently retired, she said.
"Women in Virginia are at risk," she said.
In Michigan, Planned Parenthood hopes to see the repeal of state laws similar to the surgical center requirements in Texas.
While Michigan's Legislature is "solidly pro-life," Planned Parenthood could succeed in the courts, said Genevieve Marnon, a spokeswoman for Right to Life of Michigan.
"There are some substantial differences between our law and the Texas law. Whether that will hold up in a court challenge _ anything can go," Marnon said.
The Texas law required all abortion clinics _ even those that provided only abortion medication _ to meet surgical center requirements, while Michigan only requires those performing surgical abortions to meet the restrictions, she said. Michigan also does not require doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges.
After the Texas law passed, more than half the state's abortion clinics closed, and if it was fully enforced, only nine would have remained statewide, leaving women in far west and south Texas hundreds of miles from the nearest clinic, which played a role in the Supreme Court's finding that the law imposed an undue burden.
Michigan is one-fifth the size of Texas. Since Michigan passed its abortion restrictions four years ago, fewer than half of the state's 32 clinics have closed, leaving 19 statewide, Marnon noted.
"I hope for the sake of women that we can make sure that the clinics are safe, medically sound, clean and up to standard," she said.
Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, says he's concerned that states will see Planned Parenthood erode abortion restrictions in response to the high court ruling.
"It's already happened," he said, citing the court's refusal to consider the Mississippi and Wisconsin laws, adding that he's worried state health departments will block admitting privileges requirements in other states. "We're going to see that will be the case in the coming weeks."
Texas' sonogram law and limits on Planned Parenthood funding have been upheld by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. But he noted that the state's 20-week ban on abortion has not been similarly tested, and said, "We don't know if a challenge would be successful."
Pojman doesn't expect Planned Parenthood to make headway in the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature, whose members have already vowed to propose new abortion restrictions next year.
"If they're looking to gut any of our substantive informed-consent laws, including the sonogram laws, or prohibitions for funding for elective abortions or other protective measures that have been passed over the last 20 years, I would call this a publicity stunt," he said of Planned Parenthood. "None of those attempts to repeal any of those laws would have any chance whatsoever.
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