Crossroads at the Court

Ilyse Hogue
Feb 29, 2016 · 4 min read

This week, I will be at the Supreme Court with thousands of other supporters of reproductive freedom to hear oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case that has the potential to redefine abortion rights for a generation.

This is the first high-profile case being heard by the Supreme Court since the unexpected passing of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. As such, it has become intrinsically linked with the political firestorm surrounding the nomination of his replacement.

It’s not surprising, then, that the usual suspects have been ringing alarm bells about allowing President Barack Obama to do his job and move forward a qualified nominee for a new justice. Americans United for Life (AUL) began dog-whistling to their base within days of Justice Scalia’s death that an Obama appointee would likely undo decades of work on the part of the anti-choice movement to roll back women’s hard-won rights to control our own bodies and lives.

AUL often prefers to fly under the radar, but in reality, is a key driver of the strategic anti-choice agenda on trial. Whole Woman’s Health focuses on a set of TRAP laws — targeted regulations of abortion providers — passed in Texas in 2013. H.B. 2, the Texas law famously filibustered by Wendy Davis, was authored by AUL and designed to do an end run around Roe v. Wade. The goal was to close clinics so abortion becomes inaccessible, since they can’t overturn Roe and make abortion illegal. This deceptive law has already forced half of the state’s clinics to close. This isn’t unique to Texas — 44 states and D.C. have some version of TRAP laws on the books.

These clinics are not being shut down because they provide abortion. Abortion is a legal right affirmed by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. And they certainly aren’t being shut down in the name of women’s health, since data shows that closing clinics does more to endanger women’s health.

Rather, AUL wrote the law because they — and the politicians they work with — oppose the very agency and empowerment that is at the heart of allowing women the right to decide when, how and with whom to start a family.

Agency and empowerment that allows us to participate as equals in American society.

Agency and empowerment that allows our families to thrive.

These are values anti-choice groups have been trying to tamp down for 43 years, values shared by the majority of Americans, values that will be on trial for years to come in the courts thanks to the success of AUL and their allies, who have been deceiving the American people and pushing their agenda through state houses.

Anti-choice extremists are undertaking a devastating state-by-state strategy to end legal abortion in this country by cutting off access to it. The laws they’re writing chip away at abortion rights while still toeing a careful legal line, which will inevitably land many of them in court, some of which will make it all the way to the Supreme Court. Cases on abortion rights could be heard by the Supreme Court for years to come, and could easily be more consequential to reproductive freedom than Whole Woman’s Health.

Cases like Whole Woman’s Health are a clear reminder of the gravity and responsibility of the court — and in turn, those who serve lifelong appointments. The court is the symbol of our ideal as a country, what we strive to be together in this experiment of democracy. But the court has also served as the place where women’s rights and empowerment either go to be raised up or stomped on. Access to contraception, paid parental leave, pregnancy discrimination and access to safe and legal abortion — all these rights ultimately get decided in the Supreme Court and for the sake of families, the power of five justices who support those rights will matter.

No wonder those opposed to that equal application of liberty stand opposed to the idea of President Obama — committed to upholding the rule of law and to the ideal of equality — nominating a ninth Justice.

In the next several months, we will witness a fight for the soul of our democracy. That fight will determine if families have the support they desperately need and if women are allowed to stand on their own feet and make their own personal decisions about their lives.

Senate Republicans have already stated their refusal to meet with, hold hearings on, or vote on the president’s Supreme Court nominee. These same Senate Republicans who swore an oath to the Constitution are refusing to do the job they were elected by the people to do. They cannot possibly say they are for women’s health, while obstructing the court from deciding on cases that will decide how women’s health is protected.

It’s up to us to make sure the Constitution is protected and upheld by our officials—who were elected by us to govern, and who are threatening to walk away from that sacred responsibility. Call your Senators and tell them to do #DoYourJob. #DoYourJob for women, #DoYourJob for families, #DoYourJob so we can do the jobs we wake up to every day — raising children, putting food on the table and contributing to our society.

Ilyse Hogue

Written by

President of NARAL Pro-Choice America. Proud Texan. Pastimes include #sharkweek & hound dogs. Love new ideas, so bring 'em.