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Recent Rulings on Contraception and Abortion Pushed Senate Dems to Restrict Filibusters

by: Genevieve Cato

Mon Dec 02, 2013 at 04:00 PM CST

Recent decisions in legal battles over contraception and abortion were the final straw in the U.S. Senate Democrats' move to restrict the use of the filibuster to block certain judicial appointments, according to the New York Times. The October 31st decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to stay an injunction against the admitting privileges provision in House Bill 2 was one of the cases cited in pushing Senate Democrats to take decisive action.

More on how anti-choice legislation like HB 2 influenced the move to restrict the filibuster below the jump.

After House Bill 2 passed this summer, many reproductive justice activists looked to the judicial system as the eventual solution. This assumption has been central to the pro-choice response to the exponential increase in anti-choice legislation filed since 2011. However, as Republicans in the Senate used filibusters to block the Obama administration's appointments to federal courts, and judges appointed under President George W. Bush in an agreement between Democrats (then the minority) and Republicans pushed the rulings towards the conservative position on reproductive rights, it seemed to Senate Democrats that too much was at stake.

A rise in court cases addressing these issues corresponded with this influx of restrictive new laws governing abortion access and other family planning services. Some of the states with cases pending currently are the states where the Obama administration will now be able to more effectively appoint judges to fill openings. This decision by the Senate Democrats will have a direct impact on reproductive healthcare access in the United States, and that is what pushed some Democrats who were otherwise against changing the filibuster rule (like Sen. Barbara Boxer) to the other side.

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice told the New York Times,"Republicans and conservatives have been better about the base understanding the significance of judicial nominations than the groups left of center." According to the article, this has been a long-term plan of social conservatives in an effort to stop what they see as "liberal overreach" in the judicial system.

The director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at the ACLU, Jennifer Dalven, explicitly named the ongoing battle over House Bill 2 in Texas when she explained: "The courts are critically important backstops for the protection of women's health and the ability of women to access abortion, but what we saw in Texas reminds us that we cannot be complacent and feel sure that the courts will be there to correct everything. We must stop these laws before they pass."  

Though the rule change restricting the filibuster will help Democrats - and women - in the immediate future, Sekulow says that "Republicans won't be afraid to return the favor," should they again become the majority party.

This is the second recent move by Senate Democrats that explicitly cites the importance of continued access to reproductive health services - including abortion. In November, they introduced the Women's Health Protection Act of 2013, which seeks to address anti-choice legislation by creating a federal law that limits the abilities of state legislatures to pass laws that would place more obstacles in women's access to reproductive health services.  

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