Catholic bishops’ effort to deny Biden communion risks alienating church members, a majority of whom support abortion rights

An image of the interior of a colorful, elaborate cathedral beside a close-up image of President Joe Biden.
Some Catholic bishops have expressed interest in denying President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, Communion over his abortion stance.

  • Some US Catholic bishops expressed interest in denying Biden communion over his abortion stance.
  • But polls show a majority of Catholics share Biden’s view in support of abortion rights.
  • The bishops could push Catholics further away at a time when church membership is already declining.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The faith of the US’s second-ever Catholic president became the subject of heated debate last month.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops gave the go-ahead on the drafting of a document that could bar President Joe Biden from receiving communion, because of his stance on abortion.

Biden, one of the most religiously observant presidents in recent decades, has been denied communion before, in 2019 at a church in South Carolina. The priest told the Florence Morning News at the time that he denied Biden communion because “any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching.”

But that pro-abortion stance would also include a majority of US Catholics.

A 2019 poll by the Pew Research Center found 56% of Catholic respondents said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. In fact, many US Catholics’ views on abortion are similar to Biden’s, according to Dr. Patrick Whelan, a doctor and professor at the Institute of Advanced Catholic Studies at the University of Southern California.

“The vast majority of Catholics are pro-life and pro-choice,” Whelan told Insider. “It’s a moral issue but they don’t think the government should be making that decision.”

Biden has personally expressed reservations about abortion in the past, but now supports a woman’s right to choose. Whelan said conservative bishops’ decision to target Biden places them at odds with church members who hold similar views.

The clash could be particularly harmful to the Catholic church, where mass attendance has been declining for decades and divisions between leadership and members are already prevalent.

A ‘long train of usurpations’

The National Catholic Reporter, a progressive publication, ran a snarky editorial last month in support of the bishops’ plan to deny Biden communion.

“Just do it, so that if there happens to be a Catholic remaining who is not convinced that the bishops’ conference, as it stands today, has become completely irrelevant and ineffectual, they will be crystal clear about that reality after the conference leaders move forward with this patently bad idea,” the editorial said.

Insider spoke with three US Catholics who support abortion rights, all of whom echoed that sentiment.

“I find it horrific that the bishops would abuse their authority in this way,” said Rebecca Houston, who taught at a Catholic high school in Chicago for more than two decades.

She said it was “shocking” that bishops would potentially deny Biden, a “devout” Catholic, the Eucharist over a political matter, but that to her it’s just the latest example of church leadership’s failures.

Houston said she found Catholic support for former President Donald Trump “egregious.” Catholic voters were split in 2020, with 50% voting Trump and 49% voting Biden, according to AP VoteCast. Meanwhile, Catholic leaders in the US, including the same bishops that could deny Biden Communion, have praised Trump, particularly on issues like abortion and religious freedom.

“It was really the culmination of a ‘long train of usurpations,’ to quote the founding fathers,” Houston said, adding that although she believes “the Church is comprised of many different viewpoints” she “cannot just sit with this anymore.”

‘I would support the church more openly if things like that weren’t happening’

A Gallup poll published in 2019 found many others have had their faith in church leadership shaken as well. The percentage of Catholic respondents who rated highly the honesty and ethical standards of clergy fell from 49% to 31% from 2017 to 2018, when more sexual abuse allegations and questions about the church’s response arose.

That percentage was down from 66% in 2004. Gallup said major drops in trust over the years have clearly coincided with church scandals.

Sean, a 28-year-old Catholic from Chicago, told Insider the church’s response to sex abuse scandals particularly affected him.

“The big open secret of how things are behind the scenes has taken the wind out of my sails,” Sean, who asked Insider not to use his real name, said.

Sean went to Catholic school from kindergarten through high school and still considers his faith a big part of his life, but he doesn’t talk about it much.

He said the bishops targeting Biden over abortion is just another factor making him hesitant to support the Church openly. He was opposed to abortion for a long time, but said his change on the issue was probably the biggest one he’s ever had.

“I get where the Church would be hard and firm on that,” he said. “But I can’t justify making somebody else suffer because of my own personal beliefs.”

Still, Sean said if the bishops were to deny communion to Biden, it wouldn’t greatly affect his relationship to his faith, as he already feels disconnected from church leadership. But it would be another factor deterring him from being more vocal about his religion.

“I think I would support the Church more openly if things like that weren’t happening,” he said.

With church membership on the decline it’s a ‘terrible time’ to focus on this

Church membership in the US has been steadily declining for decades, but the Catholic church has seen an especially sharp decline, according to a 2021 Gallup poll. The percentage of self-identifying Catholics who belonged to a specific church fell from 76% around the year 2000 to 58% today.

“This is a terrible time to try and make this a preeminent issue,” Whelan, who wrote an essay criticizing the bishops over the Biden-communion issue, said. “When people have gotten out of the habit of going to church and they risk insulting a majority of Catholics.”

A much better approach, according to Whelan, would be for the bishops to embrace the country’s second Catholic president and his personal concerns with abortion to find ways to actually reduce the number of abortions. He points to the drop in abortions that occurred under former President Barack Obama, when the Affordable Care Act made contraceptives and other reproductive healthcare available to women who couldn’t get it before.

“Biden has moral concerns about this, like most other Catholics,” he said. “Let’s work together to find common-sense solutions.”

Are you a Catholic who would like to share your thoughts? Do you have a news tip or question about this topic? We want to hear from you! Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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Abortion-rights groups file federal lawsuit to block Texas law that would allow anyone to sue abortion providers after 6 weeks

Greg Abbott texas bar close order
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

  • Pro-abortion groups filed a federal lawsuit to block a six-week abortion ban in Texas.
  • The law, set to take effect in September, would allow people to sue anyone helping someone get an abortion after six weeks.
  • The groups argue that the law violates “constitutional right to privacy and liberty.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Several abortion-rights groups and providers filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday to block a Texas law that would allow people to sue abortion clinics, doctors, and anyone else helping someone get an abortion in the state after six weeks.

The law, signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in May and set to take effect in September, invites private citizens, even those outside of Texas, to help enforce the state’s six-week abortion ban, awarding them with at least $10,000 per each successful court challenge.

The law will “incentivize anyone who disapproves of a patient’s abortion – a relative, an abusive partner, or even a stranger – to sue the provider and obtain a court order stopping the abortion,” the group of plaintiffs, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, along with several abortion providers, said in a press release.

The groups argue that the law violates “constitutional right to privacy and liberty as established by Roe v. Wade,” the landmark Supreme Court decision that granted the right to abortion almost 50 years ago.

The Texas law, known as SB 8, is one of a slew of restrictive “heartbeat” abortion bans recently enacted by Republican governors. The law seeks to prohibit abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which typically occurs at the six-week mark, a time when some people don’t know they are pregnant.

But the Texas law is unique from the others in that it authorizes individuals, and not state government officials, to enforce the ban.

“This new law would open the floodgates to frivolous lawsuits designed to bankrupt health centers, harass providers, and isolate patients from anyone who would treat them with compassion as they seek out health care,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “The cruelty is the point – and we will not let it stand.”

The challenge comes as the Supreme Court is due to consider a major abortion case that could upend landmark decisions such as Roe v. Wade. The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, concerns a Mississippi law that would ban nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

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A federal judge blocked an Indiana law that would have forced doctors to give dubious medical advice about reversing abortions

2016 03 02T120000Z_1404853509_GF10000330810_RTRMADP_3_USA COURT ABORTION.JPG
Protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in the morning as the court takes up a major abortion case focusing on whether a Texas law that imposes strict regulations on abortion doctors and clinic buildings interferes with the constitutional right of a woman to end her pregnancy, in Washington March 2, 2016.

A federal judge on Wednesday blocked an Indiana law that would have required doctors to tell women undergoing abortions disputed medical advice.

US District Judge James Patrick Hanlon in Indianapolis blocked the so-called “abortion reversal” law just before it was set to take effect. A lawsuit challenging the law filed by abortion-rights groups can now go through the court system, according to the Associated Press.

The law would have required doctors to tell women undergoing medication-induced abortions about a drug to stop the process halfway through. Health experts have said science doesn’t support the drug’s supposed benefits and that there is little safety information about the medication, according to the Associated Press.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Rep. Ted Lieu calls Catholic bishops ‘hypocrites’ for trying to deny Biden Communion over abortion stance while ignoring Bill Barr’s death penalty push

Ted Lieu
Rep. Ted Lieu questions Intelligence Committee Minority Counsel Stephen Castor and Intelligence Committee Majority Counsel Daniel Goldman during House impeachment inquiry hearings before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill December 9, 2019 in Washington, DC.

  • Catholic Bishops advanced a document that could bar Biden from Communion over his support for abortion rights.
  • Rep. Ted Lieu, a Catholic, called the Bishops “hypocrites” and “nakedly partisan” for the move.
  • He drew a comparison to Bill Barr, another Catholic, who pushed the death penalty, which is also at odds with the Church.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California lashed out at US Catholic Bishops on Friday after they voted in favor of advancing a document that could block President Joe Biden from receiving Communion due to his stance on abortion.

The bishops overwhelming voted to advance the drafting of a “teaching document” that would admonish public figures who support abortion rights, with 74% voting in favor. Some hope the guidance will limit or deny Biden and other Catholics who support abortion rights from receiving Communion.

Lieu, who is also Catholic, called the bishops “nakedly partisan” and “hypocrites” over the move, drawing a comparison to another prominent Catholic in politics that has pushed agendas that run counter to the Catholic Church’s teachings.

Read more: Biden loves going to church but his abortion stance could hurt his chances of receiving Communion

“Dear @USCCB: I’m Catholic and you are hypocrites. You did not tell Bill Barr, a Catholic, not to take communion when he expanded killing human beings with the death penalty. You are being nakedly partisan and you should be ashamed. Another reason you are losing membership,” Lieu said in a tweet.

As attorney general during the Trump administration, Bill Barr directed the reinstatement of the federal death penalty after a 16 year pause.

“The Justice Department upholds the rule of law – and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” Barr, a Catholic, said at the time.

Barr’s Justice Department also rushed through a flurry of executions during Trump’s final months in office, with more executions conducted under Trump than any president in at least a century.

But the Catholic Church has taken a firm stance against capital punishment. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the same group advancing the Biden abortion issue, has called for the end of the death penalty in the US for decades.

In multiple tweets, Lieu also pointed out other issues at odds with the church that have not been used as a means to formally deny Catholic politicians communion, including contraception, divorce, same-sex marriage, and fertility treatment.

After saying he is Catholic and supports these issues, he said: “Next time I go to Church, I dare you to deny me Communion.”

In another tweet, he said the Catholic Bishops “should be deeply ashamed for politically weaponizing the sacred sacrament of Communion.”

Biden, the second Catholic person to be president after John F. Kennedy, is a practicing Catholic who often attends mass and discusses his faith. He has said he is personally opposed to abortion, but that he does not feel that view should be forced on others. In recent years he has become a stronger supporter of abortion rights.

Biden has been denied communion at least once before in 2019 due do his stance on abortion. He declined to comment on the Catholic Bishop’s recent actions, calling it a “private matter” and saying he does not think it will happen.

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Biden budget scraps ‘Hyde Amendment,’ potentially allowing federal funding of abortion

2016 03 02T120000Z_1404853509_GF10000330810_RTRMADP_3_USA COURT ABORTION.JPG
Protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in the morning as the court takes up a major abortion case focusing on whether a Texas law that imposes strict regulations on abortion doctors and clinic buildings interferes with the constitutional right of a woman to end her pregnancy, in Washington March 2, 2016.

  • President Joe Biden’s proposed federal budget excludes the Hyde Amendment.
  • That provision, passed in 1977, has prohibited federal spending on abortion.
  • Supporters of reproductive rights hailed the decision.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Much has been made of what is included in President Joe Biden’s proposed $6 trillion federal budget, but supporters of reproductive rights are praising a key omission: a federal ban on funding abortion.

Known as the Hyde Amendment, that prohibition has been law since 1977. In practice, it means the federal government cannot cover the cost of abortions under Medicaid, the federal insurance program used by some 72 million low-income Americans. The Indian Health Service, which provides care to more than 2.5 million indigenous people, is also barred from providing abortion services.

A GOP effort to make the ban permanent failed the last time Republicans controlled the House. And in 2016, the Democratic Party formally endorsed scrapping the prohibition, named after its original Republican sponsor, Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde.

Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, called Biden’s move an “historic step in the fight for reproductive freedom.”

“For far too long, the Hyde Amendment has put the government in control of a personal health care decision for many people with low incomes,” she said.

It is far from guaranteed that the Hyde Amendment will be tossed aside in the budget ultimately passed by Congress. But if it is, it would have a significant impact on the health care options of low-income women. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly one in five women of reproductive age is covered by Medicaid.

The budget proposal “marks a historic step toward finally ending the coverage bans that have pushed abortion care out of reach and perpetuated inequality for decades,” Georgeanne Usova, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

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Medical experts on TikTok are paying the price for stepping up against a ‘ridiculous amount of myths” like taking Vitamin C for at-home abortions

TikTok medical experts
Doctors and other medical experts use TikTok to spread information and debunk unverified claims on the app.

  • TikTok prohibits misinformation that “can cause harm to an individual’s physical health.”
  • Medical experts in various fields told Insider that the company behind TikTok has insufficiently moderated misinformation.
  • Misleading or false info on the app goes beyond COVID-19 and can spread to other facets of medical content, creators told Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Savannah Sparks, a pharmacist and lactation consultant in Mississippi, joined TikTok last year. Since arriving on the app, she’s spent much of her time on the app debunking false and dangerous content.

In a March video, Sparks, who has over 490,000 followers, responded to a TikTok user’s video that claimed a supplement could treat ADHD. In a February TikTok, she debunked another user’s video that claimed mixing over-the-counter painkillers created an opioid similar to Percocet.

Other videos involved Sparks’ debunking of long-standing myths about COVID-19 such as the virus was no worse than the seasonal flu or that masks weren’t effective in preventing its spread. Some of these videos even come from accounts of individuals themselves claiming to work in the healthcare industry, she said.

Sparks said videos she reported to TikTok were rarely taken down for misinformation, even when they appeared to violate TikTok policies about COVID-19. On the other hand, Sparks said she had videos of her responding to misleading or false information removed for harassment and bullying.

While she told Insider she’d drawn backlash for her earlier videos, Sparks said she faced a new wave of harassment on TikTok when she posted videos calling out people who made content promoting fake COVID-19 vaccination cards.

The FBI has warned that these fraudulent cards are illegal, though that hasn’t stopped people from creating and selling these cards on sites like eBay.

Sparks said her followers in March started to tag her in videos of TikTokers who said they planned to forge COVID-19 vaccination cards.

“Forging medical documents is a felony,” Sparks said. “I started responding.”

Users created anonymous accounts on TikTok and Instagram to send her and her family these threats, she said. Other users openly passed around her home address in the comments on TikTok videos.

Some found her personal cell phone number and sent her threatening messages there.

Users on 4chan analyzed the backyard setting in one of her TikTok videos and compared it to satellite imagery from Google Maps to determine her location while she was visiting her mother in South Carolina.

“It got pretty aggressive, pretty fast,” Sparks said.

Sparks shared screenshots of TikTok comments from users who shared her address and speculated about where she worked. She also shared direct messages from Instagram users who threatened to kill her and her young daughter because of her TikTok videos.

When she ignored the messages, Sparks said the trolls started targeting her friends, who requested that she delete many of her videos to avoid further harassment. And so she did.

The harassment led her to attempt to scrub all of her social media accounts from the internet entirely, including accounts she had built for her business. Three weeks later, she returned to social media, including TikTok, after people encouraged her to return and reminded her “activism doesn’t come without a price,” Sparks said.

Sparks said she felt comfortable re-joining social media after she filed a local police report, contacted the FBI, and got authorities in the military involved since her husband is active duty.

When she re-joined, the harassment continued, Sparks said. In May, she said someone mailed dozens of her neighbors a letter that called her “an awful troll” and a “self-righteous, vindictive b—-.” Sparks provided Insider a copy of the letter.

She said she doesn’t know who sent it but reported it to the authorities.

“I’m not afraid,” Sparks told Insider. She plans to print the letter on t-shirts and sell them to her followers to raise money for a pro-science organization, she added.

A letter
Sparks said someone mailed a letter calling her an ‘awful troll’ to her neighbors.

“I think that TikTok says that they value science and that they don’t want medical misinformation to be spread on the app,” Sparks said. “But what I’ve seen and what I know everybody else has seen is that is not the case and that it’s all. It’s all for show.”

TikTok has publicly condemned misinformation, but COVID-19 is just one topic surrounded by misleading or false content

In 2020, TikTok took public action to limit the spread of misinformation – particularly claims related to COVID-19 and the 2020 election. The company said it removed more than 400,000 videos in the second half of last year alone.

TikTok also created a COVID-19 information center to provide users with up-to-date information and said it provided a link to the center on more than 3 million videos that mentioned the disease last year.

In February, the company implemented a new prompt to alert users if they were viewing or about to share a video that had contained facts that its moderators were unable to confirm. TikTok moderators are also able to escalate videos to its third-party fact-checking partners, including those from Science Feedback, PolitiFact, and Lead Stories if they’re unable to verify or confirm the validity of claims in a video.

But medical misinformation on TikTok goes beyond COVID-19 and can spread to other facets of medical content on the app, creators told Insider. Dr. Inna Kanevsky, a Professor of Psychology at San Diego Mesa College, has courted more than 884,000 TikTok followers with her videos debunking creators’ videos that misrepresent psychology.

Kanevsky said the type of inaccuracies she sees range from videos about serotonin in the brain originating in the gut to videos that misrepresent medical diagnoses and claim that depression is a result of a person’s intelligence and that ADHD is a “superpower.”

Months after joining TikTok, Kanevsky, who on her profile notes she’s not a therapist but an academic, said she started seeing “blatant misinformation” relating to psychology toward the end of 2020. It was only after she started interacting with other creators who made psychology videos, that Kanevsky saw more of them on her For You Page (FYP).

The FYP is the primary way TikTok users are shown new videos. Every user’s FYP is unique and is crafted by a TikTok algorithm that shows users content tailored to their interests. It’s been credited with allowing communities to grow and flourish but has also been linked to fueling trails of harassment.

These creators, she said, often point to “studies” or “research” to back their claims all without providing sources to substantiate them. When she, or other experts, called this out, however, the creators often responded by blocking them.

Sometimes, she said, creators who spread misinformation will point to blogs or websites that aren’t well-sourced as the basis for their content. Some of these creators are even verified by TikTok, she said, possibly creating the appearance that the information they spread is more reliable even if they don’t have the background to make such claims.

Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, a Portland OB-GYN with 1.8 million TikTok followers, uses her account to spread information about reproductive health, but she’s also used it to debunk “the ridiculous amount of myths” relating to her field that shows up on social media, including on TikTok.

“The ability to go viral so quickly on this platform is wonderful, but also can be really unfortunate and dangerous because misinformation can really go viral,” Lincoln said.

Lincoln told Insider she’s repeatedly debunked the myth that melatonin, often taken as a sleep aid, renders birth control less effective. In April, Lincoln debunked a false video from a creator who claimed that Plan B, a popular contraceptive, becomes less effective over time.

She’s also debunked the viral claim that the COVID-19 vaccines make birth control less effective. And she’s also had to set the record straight on false claims that birth control causes cancer, she said.

“It bothers me because you can say birth control causes cancer,” Lincoln said. “And that can be true for one subset, but you’re not getting the context. You’re not getting references. You’re not talking about the other cancers that it can prevent. You’re not getting statistics to understand relative risk. I mean, that’s hard to convey, especially when you have no credentials or training in doing that.”

Like other creators who spoke with Insider, Lincoln said she’ll often try to debunk a video by commenting on it in order to avoid amplifying harmful content further on her own page. But if a video is more popular, she’ll make a video in response

Some creators have a direct line to TikTok to point out problems while others have to use the built-in tools

Creators who spread medical misinformation, Lincoln said, typically fall into two categories: either they themselves believe the misinformation, or they’re using misinformation to sell a service, supplement, or other product.

Lincoln said she’s witnessed videos that make false and outright dangerous claims about abortion care, including videos from creators falsely instructing followers about how to do at-home abortions by taking Vitamin C or Ibuprofen.

She said she has regular contact with TikTok and can send them videos when she believes they are inappropriate for the platform or violate the company’s rules. She said she believes that TikTok is trying its best to moderate and remove medical misinformation, but said the sheer amount of videos uploaded to the app presents challenges and can cause real harm.

“The good news is that I report them. A lot of what I do is reporting these things,” Lincoln said. “But the bad news is that already maybe 500,000 people have seen it, and it delays the actual care and it can be really dangerous.

But Lincoln called the company’s in-app content reporting mechanism “terrible” and said the content she reported often wasn’t removed the first time she submitted a report.

“I imagine they’re trying to hit the sweet spot of freedom of speech versus taking down things that are really harmful,” she said.

Social-media companies in general have said they work to balance the removal of content, like hate speech, while also preserving users’ ability to have discussions on their platforms.

During a Congressional hearing in March, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerburg said his company tried to take a nuanced approach to moderation, using a balance of AI and human moderators.

“We believe in free expression,” Twitter CEO and founder Jack Dorsey said also last month. “We believe in free debate and conversation to find the truth. At the same time we must balance that with our desire for our service not to be used to sow confusion, division, or destruction.”

On TikTok, Kanevsky said she’s tagged in dozens of videos every day from her followers who ask her to chime in on whether the information presented in a video is accurate.

“Obviously I can’t address every psychology fact creator because a lot of them are just copying each other,” she said.

Because TikTok prioritizes short, viral content, creators will often parrot other viral videos they’ve seen on the app in an attempt to garner TikTok fame, which could lead them to spread false or misleading information even if it’s already been debunked or even deleted by the original creator, Kanevsky said.

Trolls often tell Kanevsky she should leave the platform if she doesn’t like content made by other creators. But TikTok provides a “community” and a “richness of experience” that keep her on the platform despite its flaws, she said.

Sometimes, she tries to reach out to a creator directly allowing them to take down or correct misinformation they’ve shared before she makes a video to debunk it. Sometimes it works.

Kanevsky said she’d had success in talking to Max Klymenko, a TikTok creator with 2.2 million followers.

His recent videos include “actual sources” she said, a marked change from his past content, which included one viral video that told viewers cited “the latest science” in suggesting the color of one’s clothing could affect their anxiety level and mood.

While TikTok has an in-app feature to report misinformation, Kanevsky said she’d mostly given up using it. She said had little success in having misleading videos removed by flagging them to the company, and said she’s not even sure whether these videos actually violate TikTok’s guidelines in the first place.

According to the company guidelines, TikTok specifically prohibits “medical misinformation that can cause harm to an individual’s physical health.”

“What this actually tells me is that this video basically telling people to diagnose themselves with personality disorders based on sleep habits is not really ‘misleading information’ because they cannot guarantee that that will cause harm to individuals,” Kanevsky said.

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The potential effects of the Supreme Court’s abortion case are ‘really disturbing,’ especially for low-income women and women of color, a lawyer on the case says

Abortion Supreme Court
Pro-choice activists hold signs alongside anti-abortion activists participating in the “March for Life,” an annual event to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the US, outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, January 18, 2019.

  • The US Supreme Court on Monday said it would hear a case about a Mississippi abortion law.
  • The ruling could have a “disturbing” impact on access to abortion, lawyer Rob McDuff told Insider.
  • Anti-abortion laws “have a particularly pronounced impact” on poor and low-income women, he said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Supreme Court on Monday announced it would hear arguments in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case regarding a restrictive abortion law in Mississippi. The high court’s ruling could have a “disturbing” impact on abortion access in the US and override decades of legal precedent, a lawyer on the case said.

“We always knew it was a possibility, but it’s pretty rare that the Supreme Court takes a case that calls into question 50 years of precedent,” said attorney Rob McDuff in an interview with Insider on Monday. McDuff represents the Mississippi Center for Justice in the case, told Insider on Monday.

The case concerns a 2018 Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks in gestation. Federal courts blocked the law from taking effect after the sole abortion provider in the state sued, but a ruling from the Supreme Court could reverse the decision, challenging decades-old legal precedent.

Read more: How Marjorie Taylor Greene became the Voldemort of Congress. Few lawmakers even want to say her name.

In the past, the Supreme Court declined to review lower court rulings that had blocked harsh state abortion laws from taking effect, making its decision Monday to hear the Mississippi case all the more startling, McDuff said.

“It’s quite disturbing that the court is now taking up a case that really questions the reasoning of Roe v. Wade,” he said, referencing the 1973 landmark decision by the court that upheld a woman’s right to seek an abortion.

McDuff said he couldn’t speculate which members of the nine-person bench pushed to hear the Mississippi case, but he said the landscape of the court undoubtedly shifted following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last year.

President Donald Trump nominated Justice Amy Coney Barrett to fill in for Ginsburg, who was an abortion rights advocate. Barrett has previously said it was “unlikely” the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, but suggested the rules around abortion could evolve.

“I don’t think abortion or the right to abortion would change. I think some of the restrictions would change … The question is how much freedom the court is willing to let states have in regulating abortion,” Barrett said in 2016, according to the Associated Press.

Barrett, along with the two other judges Trump nominated, Justices Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh, have shifted the Supreme Court’s ideological balance dramatically toward the right, sounding alarm bells for pro-choice activists.

The Mississippi Center for Justice, of which McDuff is a cofounder, is focused on advancing racial and economic justice. McDuff said anti-abortion legislation put forth in dozens of states, including Mississippi, is at odds with these goals.

“These laws have a particularly pronounced impact on poor women and women of color because it makes it more difficult for them to obtain abortions,” he said. “They can’t afford to travel out of state to a place where it might have better laws.”

Other pro-choice organizations similarly shared concerns about the court’s decision to hear the case Monday.

“If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Mississippi, it will take the decision about whether to have an abortion away from individuals and hand it over to politicians,” said Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, in a statement.

“The American people overwhelmingly support the right of individuals to make this decision for themselves and will not tolerate having this right taken away,” she added.

McDuff said he and others at the Mississippi Center for Justice would work with their counterparts on the lawsuit at the Center for Reproductive Rights, who also represent the plaintiff in the case, to create and execute a legal strategy going forward before arguing the case before the justices next year. A ruling in the case is expected sometime in June 2022.

It’s hard to predict what effect the court’s ruling would have on abortion access, McDuff said, but depending on how the court rules, it could be felt instantly in states across the US.

“The potential is really, really disturbing,” he said.

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The Supreme Court agreed to take up a major abortion case that threatens to erode Roe v. Wade

abortion protest supreme court
In this Wednesday, March 4, 2020 file photo, abortion rights demonstrators rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington. A federal appeals court panel ruled that medication abortions, in which pills are taken to terminate a pregnancy, can be provided in Texas during the coronavirus pandemic. In a ruling Monday, April 13, 2020, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that medication abortions can go forward.

  • SCOTUS announced it will take a case that threatens to erode Roe v. Wade and could impact reproductive rights.
  • SCOTUS previously limited abortion pill access during the pandemic.
  • An expert on reproductive rights told Insider arrests for seeking abortions could increase if Roe v. Wade were overturned.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Supreme Court on Monday announced it planned to take up a major abortion case that could allow it to severely limit or overturn landmark court rulings on abortion, including Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, concerns a law in Mississippi that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, SCOTUSblog first noted.

The Supreme Court will consider “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional,” according to the court’s announcement.

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, 34 states could cease to protect abortion rights if Roe v. Wade is overturned and local governments take no action.

According to Mississippi Today, the law had been previously overturned twice in federal court.

Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion provider in the state, had asked the Supreme Court not to take up the case, the report said.

The SCOTUS challenged abortion access during the pandemic by banning the abortion pill from mail-order

This isn’t the first time the majority conservative court has challenged reproductive rights.

In January, the Supreme Court voted to ban the abortion pill from mail delivery, making it the only prescription medication to have such restrictions, until the Biden Administration reversed the ruling on April 13.

In July 2020, for the first time, the FDA allowed mail order of the abortion pill on a federal level. The goal was to ensure safe abortion care during the pandemic, when Americans were being urged not to travel and to avoid in-person treatments where possible.

Kate Kelly, a human rights lawyer and co-host of abortion rights podcast Ordinary Equality, previously told Insider the SCOTUS ruling doesn’t just heighten COVID-19 risk for people seeking abortions. She believes it’s also a bad omen for the future of Roe v. Wade, a 1973 ruling which says pregnant women have the right to abortions without excessive government intervention.

“They intervened in something that would have naturally expired, because it was an order for during the pandemic,” Kelly said.

“This is another reason why it’s like, ‘Oh, why did [SCOTUS] jump into something that would have ostensibly expired anyway, to like cut it off?’ That’s scary,” Kelly said.

What would happen if Roe v. Wade were overturned

If SCOTUS were to rule in favor of abortion restriction in the Dobbs v. Jackson case, it would effectively overturn Roe v. Wade.

In doing so, the US would be ushered back into a context more akin to the 1950s and 1960s, when underground abortions were common, Carole Joffe, a sociologist and co-author of “Obstacle Course: The Everyday Struggle to Get an Abortion in America,” previously told Insider.

However, at the time, there wasn’t a widespread movement seeking to penalize people who got abortions – it was done under the radar, Joffe said. Of the 200,000 and 1.2 million illegal abortions per year in the two decades before Roe v. Wade, only a small proportion resulted in charges or sentencing, according to The Guttmacher Institute.

Joffe expects that would change: she believes prison time post-Roe would be more common.

“Prosecution before Roe was very idiosyncratic, dependent on local factors. But if Roe falls, criminal justice officials, from the virulently anti-choice Attorney General Jeff Sessions on down to local police and district attorneys in many jurisdictions, can be expected to avidly pursue those who break the law,” Joffe wrote in a 2017 article for Rewire News Group.

In 2016, The Self-induced Abortion Legal Team, a group of lawyers advocating for reproductive justice, reported that at least 17 people who sought self-medicated abortions since 2005 have faced arrests or jail time.

There are still many unknowns about cost and access if Roe v. Wade is overturned, Joffe said, since different states can make their own laws about the procedure. One thing is certain: abortions will continue, no matter Roe v. Wade’s future.

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Idaho governor signs ‘fetal heartbeat’ bill banning abortions after 6 weeks

Pro-choice abortion rally
Pro-choice activists protest during outside the US Supreme Court on March 4, 2020, as the Court heard oral arguments on a challenge to a Louisiana abortion law.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed HB 366, a ‘fetal heartbeat’ bill, into law. The measure bans abortions after 6 weeks. The legislation includes exceptions in cases of medical emergencies and pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

The law will not go into effect immediately and will only go into effect if a similar ban is upheld in Idaho courts. Planned Parenthood said it plans to sue if the law is upheld and goes forward.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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Arkansas GOP governor said the near-total ban on abortion he signed is designed to land before the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade

Asa Hutchinson
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks at a news conference at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, August 4, 2015.

  • Arkansas Gov. Hutchinson said his anti-abortion law is designed to be argued before the Supreme Court.
  • The law is a near-total ban on abortion, with no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
  • “I signed it because it is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade,” he told CNN.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, on Sunday said the near-total ban on abortion he signed into law earlier in March was designed to land before the Supreme Court.

Hutchinson made the comments Sunday during an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union”

“It is not constitutional under Supreme Court cases right now,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash. “And I did prefer a rape and incest exception. I didn’t get a vote on that. And so I signed it because it is a direct challenge to Roe vs. Wade. That was the intent of it.”

He said “the whole design” of the law was to get the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling in Roe v. Wade.

Hutchinson signed the bill into law on March 9, as The Associated Press reported, even though he at the time had expressed concerns over its lack of exceptions for rape or incest. Under the law, abortion is only permissible in cases where a mother’s life is in danger.

The bill is just one example of Republican-backed challenges to abortion that have appeared in state legislatures across the US this year.

“I think there’s a very narrow chance that the Supreme Court will accept that case, but we will see,” Hutchinson said Sunday. “And, again, I would prefer – it’s been my historic position that the three exceptions would be rape, incest, and the life of the mother.

“But this is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade,” he continued. “And that’s the intent of the legislation.”

As the Associated Press noted when the bill was signed earlier this month, it won’t go into effect until 90 after the date it was signed into law, meaning it can’t be enforced until this summer at the earliest. Groups centered on protecting access to abortion have said they planned to issue legal challenges to the legislation, according to the report.

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