A looming Supreme Court case that could severely undermine the right to an abortion has attracted an unprecedented amount of opposition from across the country.
A slew of organizations and individuals filed 45 legal briefs in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, each brief examining the case through a unique lens and each coming to the same conclusion: State laws that restrict abortion access are unconstitutional.
The case will examine the validity of a Texas law, known as HB2, that places burdensome, unnecessary guidelines on the state’s dwindling abortion clinics. These regulations, while framed as improvements to safeguard “women’s health,” ultimately have nothing to do with patient safety — and were instead created by anti-abortion legislators to impose additional, costly red tape on clinic staff. So far, it’s been successful. HB2 has already forced half of the state’s clinics to close, thus cutting Texas’ abortion providers in half.
The Supreme Court case, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, won’t only decide if Texas’ law is constitutional. Depending how the court rules, the decision could also give legal cover to all states seeking to enact laws that appear to function as health regulations, but that actually exist to restrict access to abortion. The oral arguments for the case begin in March.
Never before has such a diverse array of organizations and leaders stepped forward to condemn abortion restrictions at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Reproductive rights advocates have been outspoken since HB2 passed in 2013, but since the Supreme Court’s November decision to hear the case, the diversity of opponents has grown. The 45 briefs were filed by a variety of petitioners, including physicians, historians, religious leaders, military officers, scientists, members of Congress, civil rights advocates, law scholars, entire cities, and the United States federal government itself.
“Never before has such a diverse array of organizations and leaders…stepped forward to condemn abortion restrictions at the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement.
Among the briefs were voices of actual women who’ve been affected by the lack of abortion access in the past — a voice some say is forgotten in the high-level case.
“The Supreme Court justices need to hear the real effects of restrictive abortion laws on women like this one in Texas,” said Debra Hauser, the president of Advocates for Youth, a group helping young people access comprehensive sexual health education. Hauser shared her personal experience with abortion in her organization’s brief.
“What is missing from this issue are our personal stories. The reality is that one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime.”
Many of those women shared their stories in another brief submitted Tuesday, representing 110 law professionals who’ve had abortions. Some noted how they would have never had the chance to become a lawyer if they hadn’t had an abortion when they did.
“[Our] experiences demonstrate the real world effects of abortion access on the lives and careers of women attorneys, and underscore the truth of the court’s observation that reproductive choice facilitates women’s ability ‘to participate in the economic and social life of the nation,’” the brief reads.
According to Northup, the briefs represent the largest coalition of faith leaders and faith organizations ever to oppose anti-choice laws at the Supreme Court level. In the legal brief filed by a large collection of different religious leaders, the petitioners stress their support of abortion access — despite efforts from more radical religious organizations to say otherwise.
“As religious leaders and pastoral counselors, [we] provide spiritual guidance to women facing this decision and believe that this complex decision is ultimately a moral one,” the brief reads. “While various religious groups in this country hold differing views on abortion, there is substantial agreement that women have a moral right to make their own decisions on the issue.”
A group of 40 prominent scientists also submitted a brief Tuesday, hoping to overrule the “flawed pseudoscience” that will be used in testimony to support the case.
“We hope the court is able to put abortion politics aside and focus on the illegitimacy of the medical claims propping up the restrictions,” said Robyn Blumner, president and CEO of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. “When science claims are used to infringe a constitutional right they had better be valid, but that’s not the case here.”
A Tuesday press call drew a variety of opponents together, including Wendy Davis, the former Texas state senator who led an 11-hour filibuster in an attempt to defeat HB2, and Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards, to further illustrate the severity of this case. Jessica González-Rojas, the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, also spoke on the call, representing the women already harmed the most by the current Texas law.
“For immigrants, mothers, low-wage workers, and Latinas who are all three, securing an abortion means navigating a state-created obstacle course,” she said. “Those unable to jump through these hoops will be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term or take matters into their own hands.”
Since HB2 was enacted, at least 100,000 Texan women have tried to induce their own abortion, due to the cost driving to a distant abortion clinic, taking time off work to do so, and other frustrating roadblocks to make it difficult for them to legally end a pregnancy.
The legal briefs filed, which represent more than 1,000 opponents in total, may shine more light on the broader impact the pending case could have on women across the country — an impact that has already left Texas in a health crisis.
“These briefs present a thorough record of the undeniable damage Texas’ sham law has,” concluded Northup. “It will continue to cause, and an indisputable legal argument for why it must be struck down.”