Attorney General James fights to protect women’s access to reproductive health care

Women's Health
Letitia James

FILE- In this Aug. 6, 2020 file photo, New York State Attorney General Letitia James takes a question at a news conference in New York. During a Tuesday, Sept. 29 media conference call on an initiative, dubbed “Operation Corrupt Collector,” James offered frank advice to older people who are often seen as easy marks for dubious debt collectors. “Senior citizens, as I always say, they’ve earned the right to hang up and to be rude,” James said. “Most seniors are not rude, but when it comes to individuals engaging in illegal conduct, they should hang up and report the collector to the FTC immediately.” (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

NEW YORK (NEWS10) – New York Attorney General Letitia James, as part of a coalition of 20 attorneys general, continued in the national fight to ensure women’s reproductive health care is not stifled or infringed upon. In a document providing additional information, added to Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, et al. v. Herbert Slatery, et al., James and the coalition dispute the constitutionality of two abortion bans enacted in the state of Tennessee. The coalition urges the court to follow a lower court ruling that prevents a state from creating barriers to safe, legal abortions.

These laws can also disproportionately impact Black, minority, and low-income women.

The attorneys general argue that the laws place unconstitutional restrictions on a woman’s right to choose and that they do not promote women’s health care overall.

“Time and again, Tennessee has used its power to try and turn back the clocks and unconstitutionally restrict women’s reproductive rights,” said Attorney General James. “This is just another power grab by politicians willing to sacrifice a woman’s right to access an abortion in the process, but we are standing up against these bans because Tennessee’s unlawful efforts to deny women their constitutionally-guaranteed rights will not go unchallenged. This is about protecting women’s bodies, their freedoms, and their choices.”

This past summer, Tennessee enacted two different prohibitions on abortions: a “reason ban” and “cascading bans.”

The reason ban prohibits abortion at any stage of a pregnancy if a health care provider “knows” that the patient’s decision to end the pregnancy is based on a Down syndrome diagnosis, or the sex or race of the fetus.

The cascading bans prohibit abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks after gestation. If this six-week ban is invalidated by the courts, the law includes a series of bans that seek to impose the earliest ban that can undergo judicial review.

Both of these restrictions would ban abortions before the stage of viability, which contradicts the rights set by the U.S. Supreme Court. Additionally, because the cascading bans can take effect before some women even know they are pregnant, they lead to an absolute ban on abortion, which also violates the Supreme Court.

In the added document, Attorney General James and the coalition highlight past cases in which the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that a state may not prohibit women from making the decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability. Additionally, the attorneys general emphasize that women’s health outcomes are benefited by access to a range of comprehensive reproductive health care services, including abortion. It was also mentioned how states’ interests are served by promoting women’s health and ensuring access to abortion services.

Finally, the coalition showed data that demonstrates how laws — like the one at issue in Tennessee — have a disproportionate impact on Black, minority, and low-income women. Having access to safe, legal abortions leads to better health, particularly for Black and minority women who are disproportionately represented in Tennessee’s increasing maternal mortality numbers.

Low-income women are also disproportionately affected by abortion bans because in states like Tennessee — which have not expanded access to Medicaid — uninsured women are eligible for coverage only while pregnant, and coverage ends 60 days after they give birth. These discrepancies are made worse by the small number of abortion providers in Tennessee and the long distances many women must travel to access abortion services.

Attorney General James and the coalition argue that states can promote women’s health without removing the right to choose. For instance, many states, including New York, provide residents with access to family planning and contraception programs.

Despite Tennessee’s claims that its reason ban law is intended to limit discrimination against those with disabilities, such as Down syndrome, the coalition maintains that combating discrimination should not come at the expense of women’s reproductive rights. States can promote medically-accurate, unbiased information to help women make informed reproductive choices. Additionally, states can support those with developmental disabilities and their families by providing civil rights protections and delivering social and medical services.

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