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368 Women Legal Professionals Tell SCOTUS Abortion Gave Them Opportunities Parenthood Would Have Delayed or Denied


As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to evaluate Louisiana’s abortion law, those devoted to maintaining reproductive freedom are marshalling their resources. And several hundred women just dropped something of a bomb on the justices’ desks. An amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief was filed Monday by 368 women legal professionals. It is entitled, “Brief for Michele Coleman Mayes, Claudia Hammerman, Charanya Krishnaswami, and 365 Other Legal Professionals Who Have Exercised Their Constitutional Right to an Abortion as Amici Curiae Supporting Petitioners.”

The brief is 66 pages of intensely personal narratives of judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys:

Amici include retired judges and a current tribal court justice, prosecutors and public defenders, public interest advocates, professors teaching future generations of lawyers, and a senior attorney with the Department of Justice. Amici also include current law students, underscoring the continued importance of the constitutional right to safe and legal abortion to the rising generation of lawyers.

In the document, the amici explain that they are submitting in support of the June Medical Petitioners “because they know firsthand the value of the rights under threat, and because they feel a responsibility to raise their voices on behalf of those who cannot.”

One section of the brief contains the header, “Amici’s Abortions Played a Profound Role in Their Personal and Professional Lives”:

Justice Blackmun observed in his Casey concurrence that “[b]ecause motherhood has a dramatic impact on a woman’s educational prospects, employment opportunities, and self-determination, restrictive abortion laws deprive her of basic control over her life.” Casey, 505 U.S. at 928. Amici’s own experiences bear this out. By declining to carry a pregnancy to term at various points in their lives, they were able to access opportunities that parenthood would have at best delayed, and at worst denied.

June Medical Services, LLC v. Gee, assesses the constitutionality of Louisiana’s 2014 “Unsafe Abortion Protection Act,” which requires any doctor performing an abortion to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinics. The statute is nearly identical to the Texas law struck down by SCOTUS Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, but that was in 2016, before Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch took the bench.

Those in favor of the law insist that Louisiana’s requirement ensures women’s safety; those opposed argue that the law would reduce abortion options to just one doctor within the state, seriously limiting women’s reproductive freedom and causing a host of horrific consequences.

The case does not present the question of whether or not to overturn Roe v. Wade, but rather, whether Louisiana’s statute goes beyond the limits set out by Planned Parenthood v. Casey; states may regulate pre-viability abortions so long as those regulations aren’t so strict as to constitute an “undue burden” on women. Whether Louisiana’s admitting-privileges mandate constitutes such a burden (as a nearly identical statute did in Texas) is now up to the Supreme Court.

In their brief urging SCOTUS to strike down the Louisiana law, the 368 amici told their personal stories of the decisions and consequences behind their painful decisions to undergo abortions.

The amici are practicing attorneys, law students, law professors, prosecutors, elected officials, and former judges. They represent a diverse cross-section of practice areas, and hail from all over the U.S. They advocate not with the detached pen of a lawyer arguing a cause – but rather, with the deeply personal narrative of lawyers who are themselves the sources of fact. These women know the law and they know how the law has affected them.

Their brief explains:

Many Amici are mothers, and some are grandmothers, and thus intimately understand the demands that enforced pregnancy and childbirth would impose on women’s bodies, psyches, and lives. Amici are certain that they would not have been able to realize their personal and/or professional goals were it not for their ability to control their reproductive lives.

Some recounted a painful decision to terminate a pregnancy in order to continue their education, arguing that their ability to have an abortion, “allowed them to exert ‘basic control’ over their lives, personally and professionally.” Others discussed their abortions as a vehicle to break a generational pattern of teenage pregnancy and parenthood – something the state unquestionably has an interest in achieving.  Still others shared that their abortions had been a way to mitigate the effects of an abusive relationship. Many disclosed details of having become pregnant after enduring serious emotional, physical, or sexual abuse:

Another Amicus reflected that if “legal (and private) abortion was not available” to her, she may not have left “a very physically abusive relationship . . . and it’s highly likely that I wouldn’t be practicing law today, or even be here to talk about this. This is not an exaggeration.” Email received November 5, 2019.

These women, via court filing, laid bare their most intimate secrets. Some admitted a history of addiction, others revealed suffering abuse at their partners’ hands, and some even shared histories of performing dangerous self-abortions. All pointed to their abortions as critical decisions contributing to their success – both as individuals and, ultimately, as legal professionals.

Several of the amici even recounted personal experiences with laws exactly like the Louisiana statute. One woman – a law student—shared her story of being affected by the very regulation eventually struck down by SCOTUS in Whole Woman’s Health:

I worked 3 jobs while taking 18 credit hours, most of which were pre-law classes in the Spring of 2015. I picked up extra shifts to afford the $150 [legally mandated] initial visit and then the $800+ procedure. . . . At the 8- week mark, I attended the initial appointment at the only clinic in my area. . . . After that, I made my appointment for the procedure in the following 48 hours . . . .

But before I could go back for the final appointment, the clinic suddenly shut down . . . . It closed due to Texas’s unconstitutional laws within the 48-hour period between my initial appointment and the final appointment.

I was told I would need to repeat the process at another clinic . . . over an hour away. And I was lucky there was one open. Another $150 for an initial appointment, more shifts to pick up to afford it, less money spent on food, more classes missed, and another violation of my autonomy at the hands of the state.

So I drove the hour to redo the ultrasound appointment, and since that clinic was backed up with the influx [from] now handling an area of over 6 million people, my appointments were delayed. When my final appointment finally arrived, weeks after it should have been over and [after] weeks of being bed ridden due to my [pregnancy] The law required at least 24 hours between appointments for patients living within 100 miles of an abortion facility. Tex. Health & Safety Code § 171.012(a)(4). 22 pre-existing health conditions being exacerbated, a friend who I could trust to this level drove me over an hour to the clinic.

Outside, I was screamed at and called many names, and the protestors tried to surround our car as we pulled into the parking lot. Inside I saw people of varying ages, races, and socioeconomic statuses. I was not alone. I finally got the procedure done.

You can read the entire amicus brief  here.

[Image via Image SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos