A Supreme Court *Win* On *Abortion*? What's The Catch?
A win for abortion rights?! At the Supreme Court?! In 2021?!
Yeah, that happened! It really did!
This week, the Supreme Court vacated two Fifth Circuit opinions in Planned Parenthood Center for Choice v. Abbott, which had upheld the state of Texas's near-total ban on abortion at the beginning of the pandemic last year.
Abortions in Texas resumed last summer, but the anti-choice powers that be had been fighting to keep the opinions on the books anyway in order to make it harder for abortion providers to win cases in the future.
SCOTUS's order means these two terrible opinions will no longer be binding precedent on lower courts! Yay!
They just really love regulating uteruses, okay?
While Republican governors and attorneys general around the country failed to take measures to keep the COVID-19 pandemic under control, they nonetheless saw its potential usefulness in limiting the bodily autonomy of women and pregnant people.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, neither of whom has ever seen a restriction on women's healthcare that he didn't like, were quick to use the pandemic as an excuse to limit reproductive freedom. Last March, Abbott signed an executive order halting nonessential medical procedures in an afford to slow the spread of COVID. Never one to let an opportunity to screw the people pass him by, Paxton quickly jumped in to say that abortion would also be banned under this order, since abortion is totally not at all necessary, unless, of course, you're a pregnant person who needs to not be pregnant anymore.
Shocking absolutely no one who understands how these things work, the number of Texas residents who went out of state or waited until the second trimester to have an abortion skyrocketed in the wake of the ban.
Unfortunately for women and people who can get pregnant, entire swaths of the country are a dystopian hellscape if you want to control your own reproductive destiny. One of those large swaths is the area covered by the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the appellate court with jurisdiction over Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
The Fifth Circuit takes pride in being one of the most anti-choice courts in the country. Its brazen attempt to completely ignore recent SCOTUS abortion precedent was what led John Roberts to save our ass in June Medical last summer. So when this latest case came their way, the Fifth Circuit judges once again took the chance to side with a bunch of sexist white men who had decided to place limits on other people's bodies.
Abbott eventually issued a new order that let abortions resume. Planned Parenthood, which had appealed the Fifth Circuit's decisions to SCOTUS, then asked the Supreme Court to vacate the lower court's orders as moot. Texas officials fought this, arguing that the Fifth Circuit's decisions should remain as binding precedent in the future.
Earlier this week, SCOTUS sided with Planned Parenthood. With no noted dissents or written opinion, the Court ruled:
Petition GRANTED. Judgment VACATED and case REMANDED with instructions to dismiss the case as moot. See United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., 340 U. S. 36 (1950).
Under the doctrine created by United States v. Munsingwear, if a case is still up on appeal when it becomes moot, the higher court can vacate the ruling and send the case back down to be dismissed.
The Munsingwear doctrine is mostly a procedural thing, but in this case, it's a win for Planned Parenthood — and people with uteruses.
If the decision had remained on the books, all of the district courts in the states covered by the Fifth Circuit would have been required to follow it in future decisions. Now, they don't.
Now, I don't expect the Fifth Circuit or the Supreme Court to start issuing great abortion decisions any time soon, but with Amy Coat Hanger on the highest court in our country, abortion rights advocates should take wins wherever we can get them. And federal judges no longer being bound by the absolute garbage the Fifth Circuit wrote to justify a near-total abortion ban last year is, at the end of the day, a good thing.
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