As women's health advocates gear up for what could be the biggest reproductive rights case in a generation, hundreds of groups and individuals officially urged the U.S. Supreme Court this week to reject Texas' clinic shutdown law and uphold the constitutional right to access safe and legal abortion services.
Among them were more than 100 individuals—lawyers, legislators, mothers, and more—who have chosen to have abortions. Their personal accounts, collected in amicus curiae briefs submitted Tuesday, are evidence of the real world effects of reproductive freedom on the lives and careers of women.
"These briefs present a thorough record of the undeniable damage Texas' sham law has and will continue to cause, and an indisputable legal argument for why it must be struck down."
—Nancy Northup, Center for Reproductive Rights
They "come from different walks of life and have achieved personal and professional success in different ways," according to a summary of the briefs (pdf). "But together, their stories counter the notion that women who have abortions believe they made the wrong decision; vividly demonstrate that access to abortion can be crucial to a woman’s ability to determine her future, achieve her dreams and be an equal participant in our society; and show that barriers to access, such as the challenged provisions of HB2, should not be allowed to eviscerate the constitutional right to abortion."
At issue in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole are two contested provisions of the Texas law known as HB2. The first requires abortion practitioners to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they perform abortions, and the second requires abortion facilities to meet ambulatory-surgical-center (ASC) standards governing operating protocols, physical plant, and general safety.
As Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman's Health, the lead plaintiff in the case, declared in September, "I've said it before and I'll say it again: these restrictions have nothing to do with protecting women and everything to do with closing down clinics and pushing abortion care out of reach."
If allowed to stand, the provisions would shut down more than three-quarters of the facilities that provide abortion services in the state—already, with the law partially implemented, the number of clinics has dropped from 40 to nine—under the guise of "protecting women's health." Clinic closures especially impact low-income, rural, and immigrant women.
That's why an "unprecedented collection of diverse and influential U.S. organizations and individuals," as the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) put it, filed 45 briefs with the court this week. The groups include medical associations, civil rights advocates, legal experts, government agencies, and even Republican officials.
"America cannot be the land of equality and opportunity for all if we simultaneously place unreasonable limits on a person's ability to choose how they achieve their version of those ideals."
—Anonymous Amici filer
"These briefs present a thorough record of the undeniable damage Texas' sham law has and will continue to cause, and an indisputable legal argument for why it must be struck down," said CRR president and CEO Nancy Northup.
But the individual stories stand to have a particular impact, wrote Lucia Graves at the Guardian on Wednesday:
"Now along with the occasional story of regret, the justices will have to scroll through 48 pages of personal testimony from women who are just like them – or at least about as close as you can get without actually serving on the Supreme Court. They include a MacArthur Fellow, former editors-in-chief of leading law journals, former academic deans. They also include mothers—a whole lot of mothers—and some grandmothers."
They include women like the Reverend Anne Fowler, who tells the court (pdf) that if she "had not had access to an abortion when she accidentally became pregnant after enrolling in Divinity School, she would never have been able to graduate, to serve as a parish rector, or to help the enormous number of people whose lives she has touched. Unable to pursue her calling or to be the mother she wanted to be for the daughter she already had, she would have been broken."
And an anonymous senior attorney for a major legal non-profit organization, who said (pdf):
As a young African-American woman, growing up in the Bronx, New York—one of the poorest counties in our country—the ability to decide for myself whether I would become a teenage mother was very empowering. It is at least in part because of that decision that I was able to complete high school and college and fulfill my childhood goal of becoming a lawyer. America cannot be the land of equality and opportunity for all if we simultaneously place unreasonable limits on a person's ability to choose how they achieve their version of those ideals."
Or former Seattle city councilor Judy Nicastro, who in 2013 penned an editorial about her choice—upon discovering that one of the twins she was carrying was not developing properly—to terminate the fetus so it would not be born only to suffer.
"The editorial triggered much needed discussion of the subject of late-term abortions," the brief reads (pdf). "While some accused Councilwoman Nicastro of 'killing' the male fetus, she also received an outpouring of support and messages from women who thanked her for emboldening them to exercise their constitutional rights without shame. Councilwoman Nicastro shared her story 'in the hope that our leaders will be more responsible and compassionate when they weigh what it means to truly value the lives of women and children.'"
As Graves concluded, "Being heard and feeling less alone are all well and good. In fact, they're incredibly important, especially when your audience is the U.S. Supreme Court. Let's just hope the justices are listening."
Oral arguments in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole will be heard on March 2.