Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Judge Asks for Briefing on Whether 13th Amendment Protects Abortion Rights

 In United States v. Handy, (D DC, Feb. 6, 2023), a D.C. federal district court refused to dismiss a criminal case charging ten defendants with conspiracy to block access to a Washington, D.C. abortion clinic. The court said in part:

In part, Defendant moves to dismiss the Superseding Indictment based on the Supreme Court's statement in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Org. ... that “the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion.”... [I]t appears that Defendant’s constitutional argument is predicated on the false legal premise that the predicate statute at issue in the Superseding Indictment only regulates access to abortion. In fact, it regulates a broad category of “reproductive health services,” including, among other things, “counselling or referral services.” See 18 U.S.C. § 248(5). Nevertheless, to the extent that Defendants seek resolution of this matter via a constitutional holding, the Court will require additional briefing....

Here, the “issue” before the Court in Dobbs was not whether any provision of the Constitution provided a right to abortion. Rather, the question before the Court in Dobbs was whether the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution provided such a right....  [I]n consideration of the Supreme Court’s longstanding admonition against overapplying its own precedent, it is entirely possible that the Court might have held in Dobbs that some other provision of the Constitution provided a right to access reproductive services had that issue been raised. However, it was not raised. 

Of those provisions that might contain some right to access to such services, the Thirteenth Amendment has received substantial attention among scholars and, briefly, in one federal Court of Appeals decision. E.g., Andrew Koppelman, Forced Labor: A Thirteenth Amendment Defense of Abortion, 84 Nw. U. L. Rev. 480 (1990); Jane L. v. Bangerter, 61 F.3d 1505, 1514-15 (10th Cir. 1995). Therefore, and to ensure the correct and just disposition of this criminal action, the parties shall address in their forthcoming briefing: (1) whether the scope of Dobbs is in fact confined to the Fourteenth Amendment and (2) whether, if so, any other provision of the Constitution could confer a right to abortion as an original matter....

Politico reports on the court's Order.