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Choice in the Courts
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Reproductive Health Legislation

The Reproductive rights debate in the United States rages on. Even as the Partial-Birth Abortion Bill and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act were signed into law last year, court challenges to them were being prepared. If the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade is ever overturned, the issue of abortion legality could go back to the states to decide. As a result, both sides of the abortion debate have a stake in the decisions of state legislatures — and state courts.

States continue to evaluate legislation on issues ranging from early contraception access to sex education programs to parental notification to establishing legal definitions of the beginning of life. Hundreds of reproductive health measures are being considered by state legislatures in 2005 alone. And, as bills pass these legislatures, they are sure to be challenged in state courts. For example, in June 2005, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit struck down a Virginia ban on a controversial late-term abortion procedure. The 2-1 vote, which upheld a lower-court ruling, throws out the 2003 law, which made it a crime for doctors to perform such procedures (calling it "partial-birth infanticide"). Those who sit in judgement on these issues are increasingly under fire — often labeled "activist" judges whichever way they decide.

Learn more about the way your judges are selected on the state and federal level. You can also track these issues on the Web sites of state legislatures. Visit the National Right-to-Life Committee and the National Abortion-Rights League. To find out more about reproductive health, consult our state map of resource links on women's health.

More about recent and pending legislation on the state level below.

  • Alabama AL H 311: This bill, which amends definition of person throughout portions of criminal code to include an "unborn child" at every stage of gestation has passed the House. Alabama legislature Web site.

  • California CA A 21: This bill, which prohibits a pharmacist from refusing to provide or dispense contraceptives in all or most circumstances, has passed the assembly. California legislature Web site.

  • Iowa IA H 376: The bill, which has been introduced in the Iowa House, prohibits organizations receiving state funds from counseling or referring women for abortion services. It also prohibits public funding of any entity associated with another entity that provides, counsels or refers for abortion. The Iowa legislature

  • Michigan In 2003, the Michigan legislature passed the "Legal Birth Definition Act" that defines birth as a moment when any part of the child emerges from the birth canal. State Senator Michelle McManus, the bill's sponsor, initiated the bill to "provide much-needed protection and dignity to our society's newest and most vulnerable members." Opponents argued that "with its vague wording, may ban even the safest and most common abortions performed early in pregnancy." Governor Jennifer Granholm, vetoed the bill. Last year a nearly identical bill was passed as a citizen's initiative which ensures that the measure, upon passage by the legislature, could neither be vetoed by the governor, nor overturned via ballot vote. The law, which went into effect in March 2005, is being challenged in state court.

  • New York NY A 116, which has passed the state assembly, allows pharmacists to dispense early contraception directly to women without a prescription. New York Senate Web site.

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