Whole Woman’s Health and the Future of Abortion Regulation

By John A. Robertson

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (WWH) is the most important abortion case since Casey in 1992, and a major setback for the anti-choice movement.  By allowing courts to weigh the importance of the health benefits of a regulation, it will most likely invalidate most TRAP laws, which usually only marginally advance health while making it more difficult for women to access abortion.  WWH, however, will not stop the anti-choice movement from pressing its fight against abortion in other ways.  It now controls many state legislatures, and more legislation in areas left open by WWH may be expected.

Future health-related regulation will have to hew to the WWH line of providing real benefit, at least if substantially limits access to abortion.  But close questions may still arise.  What if a state has a valid health justification for a regulation that does limit access to abortion, as Jonathan Will notes would occur if a state law that directly promotes women’s health leads to that one clinic closing, as might occur in a state like Mississippi?  Here there would be a substantial burden on access, but given the health benefit of the law, which interest should take priority?  Neither Casey nor WWH are clear on this point.  In my view the question will turn on how great is the health benefit from the requirement.  A state, for example, should be able to close the only clinic in the state if it was as derelict as the Gosnell clinic.  In that case, however, one could show serious danger to women’s health and life that would be comparable or even greater than the risk of childbirth.  If the health benefit is less but still substantial, the question is harder.  Such a situation would call into question whether the state itself must allow even a sub-standard abortion facility even when acceptable facilities exist across a state line. (See Jackson Women’s Health v. Currier.) Continue reading

Data at Work

By Scott Burris, JD

The past few weeks saw two important studies published using legal mapping data to understand the role law plays in addressing health inequity and disparities. Both provide immediately actionable insights for health policy.

The first, published in the American Journal of Public Health, evaluates more than 200 changes in state minimum wage laws over 31 years (1980-2011) using LawAtlas data, and the impact of those changes on infant mortality and birth weight. Komro and her colleagues find that a $1 increase in the minimum wage above the federal level was associated with a 1 to 2 percent decrease in the number of low birth weight births and a four percent decrease in infant mortality in the United States. The research was built on data that identified every change in state and federal minimum wages over 31 years. The natural experiment represented by 206 state law changes—which can be compared by month both before and after within state and against states that did not change—can give us great confidence that the effect of the increases is causal. Continue reading