Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole: Amicus Brief Personalizes Choice

In March, the Supreme Court will hear Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, which is likely to be the most important abortion case decided by the court in nearly 25 years. This time, a compelling amicus brief in which female attorneys share their personal experiences with abortion may influence the Court’s decision. The case challenges Texas’s House Bill 2, a state law passed in 2013 that adds onerous restrictions to clinics providing abortion services. Although the bill is best known by Wendy Davis’s famous filibuster, which catapulted Davis and the bill into the national spotlight, the law ultimately passed.

While some parts of the legislation – namely, the requirement that abortion clinics obtain hospital admitting privileges – have taken effect, forcing 14 clinics to close, much of the bill has been tied up in the courts. Last November, over two years after the bill first passed, the case was officially added to the Supreme Court’s docket. The Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on March 2.

In recent months, the debate over abortion has become increasingly prominent. Last summer, the Center for Medical Progress released a series of videos claiming to show Planned Parenthood officials selling body parts from aborted fetuses. These videos were quickly proven to be heavily edited, and the Houston grand jury investigating Planned Parenthood’s actions chose instead to indict two of the individuals responsible for creating them. However, attacks against Planned Parenthood have not stopped. Last September, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown in an attempt to defund the organization. Several clinics were targeted by arsonists in the months after the videos were released, and in November, a gunman killed three people at a Planned Parenthood affiliate in Colorado; the alleged shooter has declared himself “a warrior for the babies.”

This is the climate in which the Supreme Court has decided to reexamine the constitutional right to abortion. Whole Woman’s Health follows Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that first established this right, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision barring states from placing an “undue burden” on abortion access. The decision, which will likely arrive in June, is almost certain to have long-lasting and far-reaching effects on the status of women’s health care in the United States.

In anticipation of the oral argument, 45 amicus briefs have been filed in opposition to the bill. Perhaps the most striking of these briefs was filed by a group of over 110 women in the legal profession, sharing their personal abortion stories. While it is common to see emotional stories from women who regret their abortions on the other side of the debate, this is the first case in which women are putting their names to stories that show the importance and value of maintaining access to abortion.

The brief begins: “To the world, I am an attorney who had an abortion, and, to myself, I am an attorney because I had an abortion.” The stories are deeply personal, but they remain highly relatable: women whose abortions allowed them to continue their education, who were able to escape from abusive relationships, who broke generational cycles of teenage pregnancy, who protected their health and potential for healthy pregnancies in the future. These women come from all parts of the legal profession. They are public defenders, partners at law firms, judges, law professors, leaders of nonprofit organizations. They are us.

Typically, the arguments against abortion access are seen as more emotionally driven. Those who are pro-choice are often portrayed as “baby killers” – barely human, and certainly incapable of emotional resonance. This brief, and others like it, work to dispel that myth. By putting names to their stories, these brave women are humanizing the fight to protect access to safe, legal abortions. Women who terminate their pregnancies can no longer be seen as faceless monsters: they are colleagues, friends, family members, who were faced with a difficult situation and made the best choice they could under the circumstances.

There are 5.4 million women in Texas whose access to safe, legal abortion is currently at risk. If the Supreme Court uses this case to limit this constitutional right, other states could follow suit. We cannot revert to the days of back-alley abortions, nor can we allow abortion to become a privilege only accessible to the wealthy. This spring, the future of women’s health care is again being placed in the hands of nine legal professionals. Let us hope they listen to these stories from their colleagues and protect the right to choice.

Written by

Megan is a 2L at HLS. She is originally from Minnesota and graduated from Louisiana State University with degrees in Psychology and Political Science. She is passionate about women's rights and social equality.

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  • J-Span is an excellent organization for what the majority of American Jews believe. What you might want to consider is reminding the older J-Span reader (myself) that American Jewish Congress has a large former membership in J-Span as its almost successor organization. AS IMPORTANTLY, we all have lost sight (but not me) of making women equal citizens by continuing to demand the ratification of the federal ERA. If that were passed, you would not need to spend every valuable hour dealing with every female gender issue, i.e. abortion rights, equal pay, etal. Yes, it is a political decision;that’s why J-Span needs to keep it up-front on its agenda and that is more likely to make ratification possible-FINALLY. Every woman in J-Span and in the U.S. is NOT an equal citizen-try thinking about that every day and have our women attorneys write a brief for the ERA! Please don’t use comparative arguments about what or which is more important. They all are important but citizenship is honored in the U.S. for every legal immigrant but not for any female, native born or immigrant. Lastly, we need a highly professional, successful public relations entity-probably from out of PA-to help J-Span make its agenda publicly known to the Jewish community as well as the entire American Community. Best and fondest regards to all of my friends from AJCongress and J-Span, Arline, (Former Nat’l Board AJC) Chair of so many excellent Committees-all an honor for me to have been appt. to lead. My lifetime good fortune to have met Marion Wilen who taught me how to be an advocate for social policy and gave me the opportunity to become part of AJCongress (and every other Phila. branch of Committee, ADL, JNF, and national entities.) Still advocating with the law in my quiver!

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