European Protestors Fight for Women’s Reproductive Freedom

Here in America, one presidential candidate’s inflammatory comments regarding abortion legislation have given women’s rights activists cause for serious concern. In a number of European countries, meanwhile, another heated battle is being waged in the war for reproductive freedom.

In Poland, some citizens and legislators are attempting to strengthen already strict anti-abortion laws. Earlier this month, a “Stop Abortion” civil committee submitted a draft bill to their government that calls for not only a complete ban on abortion, but also asks for a new criminal code called “pre-natal murder” to be added to the books, according to NBC News. The bill allows women who have an abortion performed, as well as doctors and anyone who helps her have the procedure, to be prosecuted and sentenced to up to five years in prison.

As it stands, abortion is illegal in Poland except in cases of rape, incest or when the pregnancy is a threat to the mother’s life. This bill would restrict women’s access further by banning all abortion, regardless of the reason.

In Italy, abortion restrictions have historically been less restrictive. It has been legal for a woman to have an abortion procedure in that nation since 1978. However, the recent social climate in the country has caused women to have a very difficult time finding a doctor who is willing to perform an abortion. Many doctors refuse to perform the procedure due to personal moral objections, according to Medical Daily. As a result, many Italian women are forced to travel abroad to receive the necessary care they seek, potentially endangering themselves in the process by prolonging the procedure they need.

Europe has a long way to go before it can offer its women the quality of care without judgment that they deserve. Take a look at this map from the Center for Reproductive Rights, which shows abortion access in every country in the world. While in Europe, abortion is legally allowed “without restriction as to reason” in a majority of countries – with the notable exceptions of the United Kingdom, Poland, Finland and a few others – the recent surge among anti-abortion activists across the EU could change that status drastically.

In reaction to the recent anti-abortion movement, protestors have been fighting to protect women’s rights across Europe. Church walk-outs were staged in many countries, including Poland, while priests read letters issued by the church to address this topic. In Northern Ireland, protestors gathered outside the Belfast Public Prosecution Service, where a 21-year-old woman was sentenced to a three-month sentence suspended for two years for inducing a miscarriage. She was sentenced under the Offenses Against the Person Act, which was passed when Queen Victoria was still around.

Protestors handed out coat hangers and held signs that read, “dead women can’t have babies” in an effort to remind lawmakers of the fate that awaits women who are forced to turn to desperate measures for abortions. Across Europe, protestors have chanted “my body, my choice,” while in Poland, 15 cities participated in pro-choice movements, with thousands of people demonstrating for women’s right to choose.

What happens next in Poland – and in Europe as a whole – is now up to the politicians. While many people think that the bill in Poland will be difficult to pass, the fact that it has been introduced at all is a good way to read the current climate within the European nations. There is still a great deal of work to be done to guarantee that every woman in the world has the reproductive rights they deserve.

Scientific Breakthrough Could Lead to Unisex Contraceptives

The search for a birth control pill for men has had its fair share of hurdles. Over the years, pharmaceutical companies have explored a variety of experimental options, but none of them have made it to market. Recently, a research team at the University of Minnesota announced that they were working on a new type of contraceptive for men that targets the acid receptors tied to sperm production. It’s a promising development, but there’s still a lot of work to be done before it will be ready to go to market. Thanks to a team of Biologists at the University of California at Berkeley, however, we might someday have a single contraceptive that works for both men and women.

The biologists have identified a protein receptor that rests on a sperm’s tail and moves it back and forth when exposed to the female sex hormone progesterone. That motion is what provides the sperm with the forward momentum it needs to penetrate the egg. In essence, this protein acts like a person controlling the rudder at the back of a boat. The biologists found that when the protein doesn’t detect progesterone, it fails to trigger the sperm’s tail-flapping action, making it impossible for the sperm to penetrate the egg.

The team at Berkeley discovered the interaction between the protein and progesterone by employing a pretty ingenious research technique. Because of federal regulations that prohibit the testing of sperm and eggs in the same dish, they had to test the sperm alone. To overcome this obstacle, the biologists attached a tiny electrode to a sperm’s tail, and then exposed it to different hormones to see how it would react. By analyzing the electrode data, they could determine whether or not the hormones caused the tail to move.

The next step in the process is to devise a way to trick the proteins into ignoring progesterone. If the biologists are able to achieve this, we may be well on our way to having a unisex method of contraception. On the flip side, this discovery could pave the way for new treatments for male infertility as well.

FDA Updates Abortion Pill Guidelines

Originally developed in the 1980s, the drug mifepristone is now one of the most commonly-used methods for physicians to induce abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, medication-induced abortions accounted for roughly a quarter of all the abortions performed in the United States in 2011. Mifepristone works by blocking progesterone receptors, causing a miscarriage. It’s typically prescribed in conjunction with another drug, misoprostol.

Now, the Food and Drug Administration has announced that it will change the labeling on mifepristone to reflect current scientific evidence about the drug. The original labeling was based on clinic evidence from the 1990s. Under the new guidelines, the pill can now be taken up to 10 weeks of pregnancy rather than seven. The recommendations also decrease the necessary number of visits to a physician from three to two. Finally, the F.D.A reduced their recommended dosage to 200 milligrams from 600 milligrams.

In most states, physicians have already been following the regimen recommended by the new guidelines for years. In states such as Texas and Oklahoma, however, where the use mifepristone has been restricted, this update means that women will have improved access to the drug.

Abortion rights groups have applauded the change for finally bringing mifepristone’s labeling up to date with contemporary medical science. They’ve also roundly condemned the restrictive legislation which made the change necessary in the first place.

“This label change underscores just how medically unnecessary and politically motivated restrictions on medication abortion in states like Texas and Oklahoma truly are – and demonstrates the lengths politicians will go to single out reproductive healthcare to restrict women’s rights,” said Nancy Northrop, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights in a prepared statement.

To learn more about mifepristone, you can visit the F.D.A. question and answer page here.

Chilean Legislators Reconsider Strict Anti-Abortion Policy

For women and physicians in Chile, having or performing an abortion could mean spending up to five years in prison. Chile is one of just six nations in the world that criminalizes abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Since 1989, just prior to the departure of conservative dictator General Augusto Pinochet, abortions of all kinds have been criminal offenses in Chile. Prior to 1989, abortion had been legal in Chile for nearly 60 years.

Since 1991, twelve bills calling for abortion decriminalization have come before Chile’s Chamber of Deputies and Senate. Until last Thursday, however, none of them were able to gain much traction. Now, the Chamber of Deputies has voted in favor of legalizing abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal malformation to the fetus.

Soon after the vote, Chamber of Deputies president Marco Antonio Núñez expressed his excitement about the bill. “This is historic. The chamber of deputies has brought down the last ideological wall of the dictatorship,” said Núñez in a statement.

Receiving an abortion might be a criminal offense in Chile, but that doesn’t mean abortions are uncommon in the South American country. In fact, Chile has one of the highest abortion rates in Latin America. While some of these abortions are administered illegally by physicians, others are self-induced by desperate women who feel they have no other recourse.

“Clandestine abortions are carried out in Chile, and will continue, with or without politicians or a law,” said Claudia Dides, director of the women’s health organization Miles Chile. “What we want is for abortions to be safe.”

This bill is a long way from completely reforming Chile’s oppressive abortion legislation, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Before it can become law, it will next have to be approved by the Chilean Senate.

A Birth Control Pill for Men May Soon be a Reality

In recent years, researchers have developed a variety of new contraceptive options for women. From intrauterine devices to hormone injections, there are more ways for women to take birth control than ever. The search for male contraceptives, on the other hand, has been far more elusive.

Most male birth control options have been experimental, or invasive, or both.

Take Vasalgel, for example. This is a nonhormonal contraceptive that’s currently only available to men in Indiana through clinical trials. As its name suggests, Vasalgel is a polymer gel that is injected into the vas deferens to block the flow of sperm out of the testicles. It was based on a similar product which has been in clinical trials for more than 15 years. If men want to restore their fertility, a second injection is used to flush the gel out of the vas deferens.

A second, even more experimental option is Bimek SLV. This is a mechanical birth control switch invented by a carpenter in Germany. It’s surgically implanted behind the testicles, and acts as a temporary vasectomy that can be turned on and off. Flip the switch on, and a mechanism blocks the vans deferens, rendering the man temporarily infertile. Turn it off, and the flow of sperm is restored. It’s effective, but not exactly ideal. Plus, it’s not expected to be out of clinical trials until at least 2018.

Thanks to the efforts of a group of researchers at the University of Minnesota, however, men may soon be able to take responsibility for their reproductive health without having to go under the knife. The researchers presented their work last week at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

The researcher team’s leader, Gunda I. Georg, Ph.D., explained that in order to be successful, a male oral contraceptive must meet several criteria. It must work quickly, and it should not have a negative impact on libido. It should also be safe, even if taken for decades. Finally, its effects should be easily reversible and cause no lingering negative effects on sperm health.

“That’s a very high bar for bringing a male contraceptive to market,” explained Georg in her presentation. “It would be wonderful to provide couples with a safe alternative because some women cannot take birth control pills,” she continued. Oral contraceptives can be especially dangerous for women with high blood pressure or heart problems.

So how might the male contraceptive work?

Rather than focusing on hormone supplements, Georg and her team looked instead at chemical compounds that block retinoic acid receptors. One of these receptors – the alpha receptor – is tied to sperm production. Previous studies have demonstrated that animals with alpha receptor deficiencies stop producing sperm, but remain otherwise healthy.

Georg’s team concluded that if they could isolate a chemical compound that would target and suppress the alpha receptor, it could act as an effective, reversible form of birth control. The trick is finding a compound that will target the alpha receptor, but not other retinoic acid receptors. If the compound unintentionally interacts with other receptors, it could cause severe negative side-effects.

Georg and her team have been working to hone a chemical compound from Bristol-Myers Squibb that modifies the alpha receptor to stop sperm production. Currently, they’re conducting tests to ensure that the chemical only binds to the alpha receptor. They’re also altering the chemical to increase its solubility so that it can be taken orally.

There’s still significant work to be done before the chemical will be ready to go to market, but Georg expects that the team will have a pill ready for animal trials within the next six months.

SCOTUS Blocks Restrictive Abortion Law in Louisiana

In 2014, Louisian Lawmakers enacted a clinic regulation law which required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. This law effectively masqueraded as a healthcare measure while profoundly restricting women’s access to essential health services. It was designed to hold abortion clinics to the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers in spite of the fact that the vast majority of abortions in the state are performed medicinally rather than surgically. The rate of serious complications associated with these procedures is less than one half of one percent, according to the Guttmacher Institute of reproductive health.

The law was initially struck down by a trial judge, but two weeks ago the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law could be enforced. This ruling would potentially force all but one of Louisiana’s abortion clinics to close.

Before the repercussions of the ruling could be felt, however, the Supreme Court handed down a brief but stern order reversing the appeals court’s decision and allowing the clinics to remain open. Only conservative Justice Clarence Thomas noted his dissent in the decision. The Louisiana state Attorney General has since said that he would continue to defend the law, but it’s not clear how he will be able to do so in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling. The Center for Reproductive Rights has confirmed that two clinics which had already closed in response to the appellate ruling will be reopening shortly.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in other states are paying close attention to the Supreme Court’s decision.

Last week, the Supreme Court’s eight Justices convened to discuss what some people are calling the most important abortion rights case in a generation. It concerns a very similar law in Texas which has forced the closure of 82 family planning clinics throughout the state. This law, like the one in Louisiana, has also been upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Likewise, many people in Texas are speculating that this law will meet a similar fate to the one in Louisiana.

In Missouri, a state that pioneered restrictive abortion legislation in the 1980’s, abortion rights advocates are optimistic that the ruling in Louisiana could be a sign of things to come in their state as well. Currently, there is just a single Planned Parenthood clinic in the entire state of Missouri. As a result, women in Missouri travel an average of 100 miles round-trip to visit the lone clinic in St. Louis.

This decision also comes at a critical time for the Supreme Court.

In the past, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia’s vote has been critical to the Supreme Court’s rulings in cases regarding abortion legislation. In the wake of Scalia’s passing, many people expected the Supreme Court to be split in a 4-4 decision in the Texas case. As such, the 7-1 ruling in Louisiana came as something of a surprise.  In particular, Anthony Kennedy’s swing vote was expected to play a key role in the decision. Now, it appears abortion rights activists in Texas and Missouri might have more support in the Supreme Court than they once thought.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court may not announce its decision in the Texas case until next year. Scalia’s death, in conjunction with calls for additional fact-finding prior to a ruling, have left many legal analysts to suspect the decision will be delayed for the time being.

In Louisiana, at least, women can rest a little easier knowing that their reproductive rights have been protected by the highest court in the land.

Zika Outbreak Raises Important Concerns About Women’s Rights

In April of 2015, an outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus took hold in Brazil and soon spread to other countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean. Since the outbreak began nearly a year ago, there have been an estimated 1.6 million confirmed cases of Zika infection, the vast majority of which have been concentrated in Brazil. Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that if the outbreak is not brought under control quickly, it could affect 4 million individuals throughout the Western Hemisphere by the end of 2016.

While the symptoms of Zika virus are relatively benign – fever, rash and muscle soreness – the infection has been linked to the birth defect microcephaly in pregnant women. This is a condition that can have debilitating neurological effects where babies are born with abnormally small heads. As a result, government officials in countries such as Brazil, El Salvador and Columbia have begun urging women to delay pregnancy until the outbreak subsides. Unfortunately, for many of the women who are most vulnerable to Zika virus, these suggestions do not constitute practical or realistic solutions to the problem.

To begin with, they ignore socioeconomic issues in the affected countries.

Speak with women in the bustling Brazilian capital city of Brasilia, and chances are you’ll find that most of them are relatively unfazed by the Zika outbreak in their country. Generally speaking, the women in affluent areas in Brazil are well-educated, have access to reproductive health care and aren’t living in close proximity to mosquito populations. In the more rural regions of Brazil, however, the situation is quite different.

In these areas many women work outside, making mosquito bites virtually inevitable. These women also have far more limited access to contraception and health care. As a result, they might never know that they’ve contracted the virus, or that it could put their unborn children at risk of developing birth defects. The Zika virus presents the greatest risk to women in underprivileged areas who have very little control over their reproductive health and education.

These suggestions also ignore established legislation governing women’s reproductive rights.

Brazil is home to some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in the world. Abortion is only legal in cases where a woman has been raped, where her life is in danger due to complications, or where the fetus is anencephalic. This doesn’t mean that abortions don’t happen in Brazil, but it does mean that they’re often performed illegally and in unsafe conditions. In some cases, Brazilian women afflicted with the Zika virus might choose to carry babies to term rather than face the dangers and social stigmas associated with abortion.

Finally, they ignore a devastating trend in some Latin American countries.

In El Salvador, where street gangs use rape as a means of establishing control in neighborhoods, sexual violence is disturbingly common. Unplanned pregnancies happen regularly as a result of sexual violence in the poor communities of El Salvador. Likewise, it’s unreasonable for government officials to expect to be able to stem the rising incidence of microcephaly by asking women in these communities to simply avoid getting pregnant.

Earlier this month, the United Nations issued a statement which stressed the importance of upholding women’s rights during the response to the Zika outbreak. In it, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged governments to eliminate laws that restrict access to reproductive health services, and to take concrete steps to provide women with the support and services they need to determine whether or not they’ve become pregnant.

“The advice of some governments to women to delay getting pregnant ignores the reality that many women and girls simply cannot exercise control over whether or when or under what circumstances they become pregnant, especially in an environment where sexual violence is so common,” said Mr. Zeid in his statement. “Upholding human rights is essential to an effective public health response and this requires that governments ensure women, men and adolescents have access to comprehensive and affordable quality sexual and reproductive health services and information, without discrimination,” he continued.

The commissioner also urged governments to look to lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014 as they combat the Zika outbreak in their own countries. We can only hope that policymakers and health officials will heed the advice of the UN and WHO in order to develop effective response strategies that maintain the dignity and human rights of the women in these countries.

In Texas, Defunding Planned Parenthood Harms Women’s Health

In January of 2013, Texas eliminated Planned Parenthood clinics from their Medicaid program. In an effort justify the move, state legislators cited an undercover video recording that purportedly showed Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sale of fetal tissue. The video has since been discredited as a heavily-edited hoax designed to villainize Planned Parenthood.

In 2011, prior to being removed from Medicaid, family planning clinics in Texas had their grant money slashed by 66 percent statewide. As a result, 82 family planning clinics were closed, about one-third of which were affiliated with Planned Parenthood.

Now, new data is revealing the effects that these funding cuts have had on women in Texas.

A group of sociologists at the University of Texas at Austin recently published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that analyzed the impact of the funding cuts to Planned Parenthood and found that they have been especially detrimental to low-income women in the Lone Star State.

The study found that in 2013, Planned Parenthood clinics served roughly 60 percent of the state’s low-income women of childbearing age. Without these clinics, women lost access to essential healthcare services such as mammograms and birth control.

Three months prior to the initial funding cuts, the researchers identified 1,042 pharmacy and medical claims for long-term birth control options such as IUDs, hormone injections and implants. Three months after the cuts, this figure had fallen by nearly 36 percent.

Unsurprisingly, the decrease in access to birth control was followed by an increase in pregnancies.

To get an accurate picture of changing contraception and childbirth rates, the researchers focused on women using injectable birth control options because these require regular visits to a healthcare provider and are only effective for about 3 months at a time. “These features of the method allowed us to observe changes in the rate of childbirth within 18 months after the claim, which would not be possible with LARC methods (which last longer) or oral contraceptive pills (which may be dispensed for a single month or up to 12 months per claim),” wrote the study’s authors.

Based on this data, the researchers found that in counties that had previously been served by Planned Parenthood clinics, the rate of childbirth covered by Medicaid increased by 1.9 percentage points within 18 months of the initial claim. These 1.9 percentage points represent a relative increase of 27 percent from the study’s baseline statistics.

“It is likely that many of these pregnancies were unintended, since the rates of childbirth among these women increased in the counties that were affected by the exclusion and decreased in the rest of the state,” the research team added in the analysis of their findings.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, is urging legislators in other states to use these findings as a cautionary tale. “This new research shows the devastating consequences for women when politicians block access to care at Planned Parenthood. Politicians have claimed time and time again that our patients can simply go to other health care providers – and tragically that’s not the case. Instead, women were left out in the cold,” Richards said in a statement.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the researchers’ findings is the fact that these funding cuts have the greatest negative impact on women living below the poverty line who have no other means by which to access reproductive health services. Furthermore, if more unwanted pregnancies are being covered by Medicaid, then the removal of Planned Parenthood from Texas’ Medicaid program has failed to accomplish the state’s apparent goal of saving government funds.

“Our data are observational and cannot prove causality. However, our analyses suggest that the exclusion of Planned Parenthood affiliates from the Texas Women’s Health Program had an adverse effect on low-income women in Texas by reducing the provision of highly effective methods of contraception, interrupting contraceptive continuation and increasing the rate of childbirth covered by Medicaid,” said the authors of the study in their discussion of the data.

This isn’t the first study to suggest that politicians in Texas are making decisions that are harming the reproductive health of women in their state. Last year, a study conducted by researchers at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) estimated that over 100,000 women in Texas have attempted to self-induce abortion. Without reliable access to healthcare facilities, low-income women in Texas have been forced to take drastic measures to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

We can only hope that research findings such as these will force politicians in Texas and in other states to provide women’s healthcare clinics with the funding they so desperately need to operate effectively.

Long-Term Options for Birth Control

Choosing the right birth control for you is an important decision. With the wide range of options for women today, it is best to schedule an appointment with a certified OB/GYN to answer all of your questions. Before attending your appointment, though, take some time to explore the different long-term birth control options available to prepare for your discussion with your doctor about the right fit for you.

Cervical Cap

A Cervical Cap, also known as a FemCap, is a silicone cup shaped like a sailor’s hat that you insert into your vagina over your cervix. The cap acts as a protector from sperm moving into your uterus. Like all birth control, there are pros and cons to using the cervical cap. Women like the cervical cap because it can last for up to two years, it can be inserted up to six hours prior to intercourse and it isn’t felt by your partner. Unfortunately, women who have been pregnant before have a higher risk of becoming pregnant again when using the cap, and it doesn’t protect you from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It also shouldn’t be used during your period. If you decide to give the cervical cap a try, it is recommended to be used with spermicide cream or jelly. Learn more about this birth control option at PlannedParenthood.org.

Vaginal Ring

Known by most as the NuvaRing, this form of long-term birth control is a small ring inserted into the vagina once a month. Hormones are released from the ring that prevent eggs from leaving your ovaries while also creating a thicker barrier to make it more difficult for sperm to get through. If the instructions are followed properly, the NuvaRing is a very effective form of birth control. In addition to the ease of using the vaginal ring, it is a popular choice with many women as it can lead to lighter periods and offer other health benefits, such as protection against acne and cramps. Negative effects from vaginal rings include discomfort, nausea and vomiting. To read more about the risks and benefits of the NuvaRing, visit PlannedParenthood.org.

Birth Control Sponge

This safe and convenient form of birth control involves a spermicidal sponge being inserted deep into the vagina before intercourse. The Birth Control Sponge, or the Today Sponge, has a nylon loop for quick and easy removal. The spermicide inside the sponge is released to immobilize sperm while the sponge blocks the cervix. Women who have been pregnant find the Today Sponge to be less effective, and the sponge does not protect users against STDs. More information can be found at PlannedParenthood.org. The Today Sponge can easily be carried with you, usually isn’t felt by your partner and can be inserted hours ahead of time. If this sounds like a good form of birth control for you, ask your doctor for more information and discuss any potential concerns that he or she may have at your next appointment.

Birth Control Shot

If you are looking for a birth control method where you don’t need to do anything before sex, then the birth control shot may be a good option for you. Also known as Depo-Provera, this is a shot in the arm that prevents pregnancy for three months. The shot releases a hormone that inhibits your eggs from leaving your ovaries and makes your cervical mucus thicker to stop sperm. If you receive the shot when instructed, this is an effective form of long-term birth control. Some side effects may occur, including either lighter periods or heavier periods. It is important to note that Depo-Provera will not protect you from STDs. For more information on risks and advantages, visit PlannedParenthood.org.

Birth Control Implant

A birth control implant, commonly sold under the name brands Implanon and Nexplanon, is a small rod that is inserted into a numbed area of your arm by a health care provider. Lasting up to three years, this long-term birth control option is great for women who do not want to take medicine every day and do not wish to become pregnant for a long length of time. Like many birth control methods, the implant releases hormones into your body to create thicker cervical mucus which hinders sperm and stops eggs from exiting the ovaries. According to PlannedParenthood.org, less than 1 out of 100 women will become pregnant when using a birth control implant. Although some women experience irregular bleeding with the implant, most adjust with no issues.

Scheduling an appointment with a comprehensive reproductive care center, like South Avenue Women’s Services, is the safest approach when choosing the best birth control for you. Contact our friendly and highly trained medical staff today at 585-271-3850 for a professional and discreet consultation.

Supreme Court Rejects Two Restrictive Abortion Laws

More than 40 years after their landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, the United States Supreme Court is continuing to defend the reproductive rights of women from repressive pieces of state legislation. This month, two of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country were thrown out by the Supreme Court after being deemed unconstitutional. Both laws included harsh bans on abortions that were incompatible with the precedent set by Roe v. Wade. Thanks to these important rulings, women in Arkansas and Nebraska have regained a measure of control over their reproductive health.

The first victory came in Arkansas.

Enacted in 2013, the Human Heartbeat Protection Act included a ban that made it illegal for women to get abortions in Arkansas after 12 weeks of pregnancy if a heartbeat could be detected. After being challenged by doctors, lower courts were able to prevent the ban from going into effect. Now, two years after it was first passed, the Supreme Court has upheld the lower courts’ decisions, definitively eliminating the 12 week ban.

In 1973, the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade established fetal viability as the determining factor in a woman’s right to an abortion. A fetus is “viable” if it is “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid.” Viability typically occurs at around 23 or 24 weeks in a pregnancy – twice the duration of the ban in the Human Heartbeat Protection Act.

“Arkansas politicians cannot pick and choose which parts of the Constitution they want to uphold,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights in a statement. At 12 weeks, fetuses may have a heartbeat, but they are far from viable. Likewise, the ban in Arkansas is in direct contention with the long-upheld ruling of the highest court in the nation.

Then, In North Dakota, the Supreme Court blocked a similar law as well.

This “fetal heartbeat” law was similar to the legislation in Arkansas, but potentially even more restrictive. Under this law, a woman could be prevented from having an abortion just six weeks into a pregnancy. NPR’s Jennifer Ludden points out that many women don’t even realize they’re pregnant six weeks after conception in a recent article. In an attempt to defend the law, North Dakota legislators argued that, due to recent advances in medical technology, a fetus is effectively viable at conception.

After this defense was rejected by a lower court, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem made a bid for a review by the Supreme Court. Now that the bid has been rejected, there’s nothing more state lawmakers can do to revive the law.

Legal victories such as these are critical, but the fight for women’s reproductive rights is far from over.

In March, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case fighting a Texas law which has effectively crippled all but nine of the state’s 48 abortion clinics. Under the HB 2 law, abortion clinics can only employ doctors with admitting privileges to hospitals as far as 30 miles away. This stipulation has left millions of women in rural Texas without access to reproductive care.

Laws such as HB 2 take a somewhat different approach to restricting reproductive care than the laws in Arkansas in North Dakota. Rather than directly limit a woman’s right to have an abortion, they indirectly limit their access to reproductive care while claiming to make abortion clinics safer. It’s not clear, however, how the 30 mile restriction makes abortion services safer for women. Rather, it simply makes it more difficult for women to access any kind of reproductive care. With this in mind, many lawmakers are expecting the Supreme Court to overturn HB 2 in March.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, there are still 24 states with laws or policies that “regulate abortion providers and go beyond what is necessary to ensure patients’ safety.” We can only hope that further judicial review by high courts will reduce this number drastically in the years to come.