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Florida, Iowa and Texas Go to Court Over State Abortion Restrictions

Despite a successful Supreme Court ruling in favor of abortion rights in June of 2016, abortion remains far from a settled legal issue.

Yet another batch of state-based abortion restrictions will be evaluated and challenged in court, proving that — despite a successful Supreme Court ruling in favor of abortion rights in June of 2016 — abortion remains far from a settled legal issue.

Two recent legal hearings involved mandatory waiting periods — doctor appointments required anywhere from 24 to 72 hours apart from each other — which often increase the expense and time it takes to schedule an abortion.

In Florida, the courts heard a challenge to the current 24-hour mandatory wait — a requirement that was blocked as unconstitutional before it was ever enacted. Abortion providers have requested a permanent injunction, arguing that the courts have already declared it a violation of the constitution and claiming that there is no evidence to prove it is reasonable.

State officials, on the other hand, have requested more time to prove that two in-person appointments at least one day apart isn’t a hardship on patients and could actually improve care.

“We would like to look at facts from other states that do have a waiting period to show that women are changing their minds,” Deputy Solicitor General Denise Harlee told ABCNews3.

The judge has granted 60 more days to gather evidence, alluding that this would be their last chance to try to change his mind.

For Iowa, it is only the first hearing for their own new waiting period, which was also put on hold once it passed. Unlike Florida, Iowa is implementing a 72-hour waiting period — a significant enough stretch of time that clinics worry that it could actually delay the second appointment for a week.

Because of the very limited number of clinics in Iowa that offer abortion — especially clinics that offer termination after 9-week gestation — experts predict that low-income patients in rural areas will feel the greatest burden.

“‘Based on my 30 years of research on poverty, I believe the act will cause financial, logistical and emotional stress and challenges for women living at or near the poverty line,’ said Jane Collins, a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies low-income laborers, poverty and gender,” reports the Iowa Gazette. “‘I believe it will cause women to skimp on food and other basic necessities for themselves and their families, take on debt or leave bills unpaid. … Some women, in trying to pull together what is needed, will not be able to and forgo the abortion they desire and instead carry to term the pregnancy.'”

The judge said he would rule promptly on the mandatory wait challenge. If it does go into effect, Iowa would join Missouri, Utah, Oklahoma, North Carolina and South Dakota as the states with the longest mandatory waits.

Meanwhile, in Texas, it seems like 2014 all over again, as abortion providers challenge a new omnibus abortion restriction bill passed at the state capitol.

This time, rather than Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, we are about to witness Whole Women’s Health v. Paxton as the clinic once more takes the lead in challenging an array of state restrictions on abortion. That includes a ban on D&E abortions, the safest and most common procedure for any abortion after about 14 weeks gestation.

And, much like WWH v. Hellerstedt, the stakes can’t get much higher for legal abortion rights.

“Abortion-rights advocates and their opponents agree that Texas’ new anti-abortion law is the most sweeping set of restrictions since House Bill 2 was passed four years ago,” reports the Texas Observer. “Both sides knew this lawsuit was coming and that it could carry major implications if it ends up at the U.S. Supreme Court. Abortion-rights supporters are counting on Justice Anthony Kennedy to stay on the court for the rest of Donald Trump’s presidency. If the rumors swirling about Kennedy’s possible retirement prove true, Trump would have the opportunity to appoint a new justice, giving conservatives the majority they need to overturn Roe v. Wade.

While both Iowa and Florida offer reasons to be optimistic about the potential for these waiting periods to be struck down, the Texas case is a completely different beast. As we saw prior to the Supreme Court ruling in June of 2016, the Fifth Circuit is more than willing to challenge set standards around the idea of “undue burden” on the right to an abortion. Counting on Kennedy to both remain in the court and uphold the right to access a second trimester abortion is a scary prospect at best.

These are just three pressing cases, but no doubt more will work their way up the legal pipeline soon. After all, the anti-abortion movement’s immediate goal is to overturn Roe v. Wade. And until they find just the right case, they simply won’t stop trying.

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