Abortion Heads to the Supreme Court (Again)

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I love having a mildly popular website. There are so many positives to it: needing to learn how to manage a database or else risk bankruptcy, the semi-regular libel lawsuit threats, barely making enough in ad money to cover the cost of the server. But more than any of that, I really love the nonstop flood of emails I get from marketing morons. Look, I went to college for advertising so I get it but honestly, Bill Hicks was onto something when he said “By the way if anyone here is in advertising or marketing…kill yourself. It’s just a little thought; I’m just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day they’ll take root – I don’t know. You try, you do what you can.” 

Like, if you work in “marketing” by sending spam to website owners because you think their science-based feminism blog would be the perfect fit for your infographic about get-rich-quick apps, don’t kill yourself. Just…be a better person. You are a bad person and you should stop that.

Anyway, I recently got some marketing spam that I actually decided to open because it was titled simply “abortion safety.” That’s something I talk about all the time, so I cracked that puppy open. Jane M. Orient was writing to tell me that her organization, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, had filed an amicus brief in a Supreme Court case called June Medical Services v. Gee in which they argued that abortion providers are not held to the same standards as other doctors and that this is resulting in a rate of complications five times higher than other medical facilities.

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t been paying attention to this case at all and so my first thought was “Huh, the “Association of American Physicians and Surgeons” sounds like a legit organization and maybe I’ve been misled about the idea that abortions are incredibly safe and life-threatening complications incredibly rare. Maybe this Supreme Court case is important for protecting women’s health. I’ll look into it!”

Spoiler alert: No. No, no no no no no. 

First of all, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons thinks that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, that being gay in and of itself shortens your lifespan, that vaccines cause autism, and that smoking cigarettes isn’t that bad for your health. They also published an article claiming that immigrants spread leprosy. Yeah. They wrote “in the past 3 years America has more than 7,000 cases of leprosy” due to immigration, which is not true because there have been 7,000 cases of leprosy in the US in the past THIRTY years, but despite the facts Lou Dobbs managed to repeat the false claim on CBS. As they say, a lie can get halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its pants.

So that’s the AAPS in a nutshell. And I mean that. They’re nuts.

The Supreme Court case they’re talking about, June Medical Services v. Gee, challenges the notion that states can shut down abortion providers if the doctors do not have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. This particular state was Louisiana, but a similar law in Texas also got challenged in the Supreme Court a few years ago, when it was found to be unconstitutional as it shut down abortion providers without cause, leaving women unable to access their constitutionally protected right to medical care.

So how did this case end up in the Supreme Court when they already decided it a few years ago? Well, Louisiana’s Fifth Circuit court argued that in that state, this law wouldn’t close down any clinics like it would have in Texas. So they ruled that the law should go into effect and it was pushed to the Supreme Court in the hope that they would reverse that.

Now the Court is considering it, and so AAPS has filed an amicus brief. That’s a document written by someone not directly involved in a court case but who has a well-informed persuasive argument about it. Pretty much anyone can submit one so this doesn’t necessarily mean that someone on the Supreme Court requested it of them. But still, having the AAPS support your case isn’t something that you necessarily want. Again, these guys think gayness causes early death and HIV doesn’t. Yikes.

In their brief, they compare the percentage of abortions with complications to the percentage of people experiencing complications at ambulatory surgical centers (or outpatient clinics, where they do things like tonsillectomies and colonoscopies). They say that the rate for abortion complications is five times higher, but outpatient clinics require hospital admitting privileges while abortion providers do not. They don’t cite their source for abortion complications but honestly it doesn’t matter. They got the number for outpatient complications from a Kaiser Permanente report, which points out that deaths are rampant at these centers because it doesn’t actually matter if the doctors have admitting privileges. Regardless, when things go horribly wrong, the staff just calls 911 and hopes for the best.

Meanwhile, when abortion providers started setting up outside of hospitals, researchers looked at the difference in mortality rate compared to abortions done in the hospital. They found that the number of complications was statistically identical whether the abortion was done in a hospital or in a doctor’s office. I say “statistically identical” because the number was actually ever so slightly worse for hospitals.

In the Texas Supreme Court case, those defending the law were unable to come up with a single case study of any person who suffered a complication after an abortion who would have had a better outcome had they had a doctor with hospital privileges. Even the politicians who write these laws admit that they are doing it to make abortion less accessible, and it works. In states that enact these laws, clinics shut down. In Louisiana, the doctors at several clinics tried to get hospital privileges and were shut down, possibly because every hospital around them was Catholic. And you know how the Catholics feel about abortion: don’t do it where anyone can see it.

I can’t tell you whether or not this case is going to come out on the side of women. The Court is now stacked with conservatives, but I will point out that they were in the minority when it came to whether to hear the case or let the lower court’s opinion stand. So it’s possible that they may find the same way they did back before Trump got two seats filled. Time will tell.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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One Comment

  1. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/01/24/hhs-issues-notice-of-violation-to-california-for-its-abortion-coverage-mandate.html
    The Federal government is trying to punish California for requiring ALL private healthcare insurers provide coverage for full female reproductive healthcare. Their claim is that 28,000 people are being forced to cover abortion services against their “deeply held beliefs”.
    They do this with the direct desire to teach California a lesson so that other states will not try to cover full reproductive services for women. Fortunately, Newsom and Becerra bought have vowed to fight this.
    I am so sick of people’s “deeply held beliefs” trumping the right for all women to access the healthcare they need. I don’t think anyone who has not spent at least 3 months on my unit or another city hospital L and D unit and has at least 1 semester of OB/GYN education under their belt should ever have any right to create legislation that curtails healthcare in any way. Seriously, is there any other legislation written to directly change healthcare for political ends? Fuck them.

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