NEWS: Abortion in Iowa is Legal Again 

by | Jul 20, 2023 | Repro Health Watch

Abortion in Iowa is Legal Again, For Now, After a Judge Blocks New Restrictions

AP News, July 17, 2023

An Iowa judge on Monday temporarily blocked the state’s new ban on most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, just days after Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the measure into law. That means abortion is once again legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy while the courts assess the new law’s constitutionality. The new law prohibits almost all abortions once cardiac activity can be detected, which is usually around six weeks of pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant. The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the measure in a rare, all-day special session last week, prompting a legal challenge by the ACLU of Iowa, Planned Parenthood North Central States and the Emma Goldman Clinic. Judge Joseph Seidlin held a hearing on the matter Friday, but said he would take the issue under advisement — just as Reynolds signed the bill into law about a mile away. Abortion providers said they scrambled last week to fit in as many appointments as possible before the governor put pen to paper, preemptively making hundreds of calls to prepare patients for the uncertainty and keeping clinics open late. Reynolds swiftly put out a statement underscoring her intention to fight the issue all the way to the state Supreme Court. “The abortion industry’s attempt to thwart the will of Iowans and the voices of their elected representatives continues today,” she said. The ruling Monday does specify that while the law is temporarily paused, the state’s Board of Medicine should proceed with creating rules for enforcement, as the law specifies. That way the guidance for health care providers would be well defined if the law were to be in effect in the future. There are limited circumstances under the law that would allow for abortion after the point in a pregnancy where cardiac activity is detected: rape, if reported to law enforcement or a health provider within 45 days; incest, if reported within 145 days; if the fetus has a fetal abnormality “incompatible with life;” or if the pregnancy is endangering the life of the pregnant woman. Seidlin specified that his ruling today hinges on the “undue burden” test, which is an intermediate level of scrutiny that requires laws do not create a significant obstacle to abortion.

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19 Republican Attorneys General Want Police to Investigate People for Abortions

Jezebel, July 18, 2023

In April, the Biden administration proposed a change to medical privacy laws that would ban doctors and nurses from reporting suspected abortions to law enforcement. Now, a group of 19 Republican attorneys general is asking them to withdraw that change so the cops in their states can keep going after formerly pregnant people. The AGs, led by Lynn Fitch of Mississippi, say the administration’s plan to close a loophole to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) “would unlawfully interfere with States’ authority to enforce their laws, and does not serve any legitimate need.” Under current HIPAA rules, it’s legal—though unethical—for healthcare workers and insurance companies to share abortion information with police when they believe a crime has been committed or when they receive a subpoena. The Biden administration wants to make that illegal, but Republican AGs are formally objecting. All 24 Democratic AGs support the new HIPAA rule, while nearly 50 Congressional Democrats—led by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.)—told the administration the changes don’t go far enough to protect people from criminalization. Namely, they believe the rule should require law enforcement to obtain a warrant. The Mississippi Free Press first published the letter, which is signed by two candidates running for governor this year: Daniel Cameron of Kentucky and Jeff Landry of Louisiana. The other state signatories are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah. The news outlet said the AGs were concerned with out-of-state abortions, but the text of the letter is clear: They object to the entirety of the proposal to close the HIPAA loophole. “The proposed rule would thus curtail the ability of state officials to obtain evidence of potential violations of state laws…The statute does not empower HHS to shield from authorities evidence of legal wrongdoing under state law based simply on a claimed connection to ‘health care,’” they wrote. Roger Severino, a former Trump administration HHS official now at the Heritage Foundation, made conservative aims even more explicit. “If someone says, ‘I’m going to kill myself’ or ‘I’m going to kill somebody else,’ medical providers are allowed and in some cases required to disclose that information to law enforcement,” he told Politico.

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Blue-state Doctors Launch Abortion Pill Pipeline into States with Bans

The Washington Post, July 19, 2023

The doctor starts each day with a list of addresses and a label maker. Sitting in her basement in New York’s Hudson Valley, next to her grown children’s old bunk beds, she reviews the list of towns and cities she’ll be mailing to that day: Baton Rouge, Tucson, Houston. A month ago, a phone call was the only thing the doctor could offer to women in states with abortion bans who faced unexpected pregnancies. Hamstrung by the laws, she could only coach them through the process of taking abortion pills they received from overseas suppliers. Then, all of a sudden, the whole system changed. Now she can legally mail them pills herself. A new procedure adopted in mid-June by one of the largest abortion pill suppliers, Europe-based Aid Access, now allows U.S. medical professionals in certain Democrat-led states that have passed abortion “shield” laws to prescribe and mail pills directly to patients in antiabortion states. Previously, Aid Access allowed only Europe-based doctors to prescribe abortion pills to women in states where abortion is restricted and then shipped those pills internationally, leaving patients to wait weeks. The telemedicine shield laws, enacted over the past year in New York, Massachusetts, Washington, Vermont and Colorado, explicitly protect abortion providers who mail pills to restricted states from inside their borders.

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Could Facebook Messages be Used in Abortion-related Prosecution?

The 19th, July 19, 2023

A Nebraska case involving a mother who illegally gave her daughter an abortion pill has put renewed attention on the role digital information and communication could play in prosecutions around abortion. In April 2022, Celeste Burgess, who was then 17, used medication to terminate a pregnancy when she was past 20 weeks, which was the cutoff in the state at the time. Facebook messages between her and her mother, Jessica Burgess, showed them discussing how to procure the medication, which Jessica said she acquired for her daughter. Celeste and Jessica told the court that after delivering the stillborn fetus, they burned and buried it. Both mother and daughter pleaded guilty to felony charges. Celeste, now 18, is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday. Jessica will face sentencing in September. Though the incident took place before Roe v. Wade’s overturn, the case has become the first abortion-related prosecution since federal abortion protections ended to rely on people’s online consumer data. The case’s outcome could offer a potential preview to how people’s digital footprints could be used to enforce abortion laws. “This is all yet to unfold,” said Laurie Sobel, associate director for women’s health policy for KFF, a nonpartisan health policy research organization. “It’s not just state dependent. It’s very local. It’s which prosecutors would like to try to do this.” State abortion bans typically do not target the pregnant person — only Nevada and South Carolina have active laws criminalizing the pregnant person for taking medication to end a pregnancy. Still, prosecutors can use other laws like “wrongful death” statutes, targeting friends or family who might “aid or abet” someone in pursuit of an abortion — which is illegal in some states — or, as in the Nebraska case, relying on laws that criminalize illegally concealing a dead body. Both Celeste and Jessica pled guilty to charges related to burning and burying the fetus; Jessica also pled guilty to false reporting and to providing an abortion after 20 weeks. Only two instances in the past year have made use of unprotected consumer data to prosecute people related to abortion: the Nebraska case and another out of Texas, in which a man sued his ex-wife’s friends, claiming they helped her get a mediation abortion and that doing so violated the state’s wrongful death statute.

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Patients Seeking Abortion, Gender-affirming Care at Risk of Increased Surveillance: Report

The Hill, July 18, 2023

Patients seeking out-of-state abortions and gender-affirming care are at risk of increased surveillance from law enforcement, according to a new report. The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) released a report Tuesday detailing the elevated dangers for patients who travel for abortions or gender-affirming care. “Surveillance doesn’t stop at the state line,” said Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of STOP. “Even as progressive states seek to protect abortion and gender affirming care within our borders, anti-choice states are continuing to expand the threat that they will prosecute residents who leave the state to find evidence-based medical treatment.” Cahn emphasized that it’s crucial for patients to understand how they can be tracked by law enforcement even when outside of the state, writing, “Every hotel reservation and bridge toll will be just one subpoena away from being used against a patient in court.” The report comes a little over a year after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, which eliminated the 1973 precedent granting the constitutional right to abortion. The Supreme Court granted states the authority to limit or ban the procedure. In the months that followed, several Republican-led states moved against residents’ access to abortions. The report found law enforcement and state officials can use license plate readers, ticket information and street cameras to track and identify residents “seeking, facilitating, or providing out-of-state care.” Furthermore, the report claims law enforcement agencies can “weaponize data,” that is already commercially available to them, while being able to buy more data from hotels and smartphones. STOP research director Eleni Manis said while “there’s no such thing as an open road anymore,” there are “relatively safer travel methods.” The report found mass public transportation is preferable, as prosecutors and state officials are “unlikely to leverage knowledge,” about where a patient took a specific subway or bus stop. Mass public transportation still does have surveillance concerns however, with some cities increasing tracking of public buses or subways and others forcing riders to pay with phone or credit card instead of cash, according to the report.

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