It was already a hot morning. We were all standing outside the steps of the Supreme Court, dancing, singing, and holding signs as we waited in deep anticipation of one of the biggest court decisions this year. I had brought my suit jacket with the intention of going inside the Court to hear the decision. But I was also scared about going inside, as the last time I did that, things didn’t go so well.
You see, the last time I had been inside the Court when it had decided an abortion case, women lost.
Nine years ago, I went to the Supreme Court for the first time. It was my last semester of law school and I had been given a golden ticket to watch the arguments that day. I was a clueless law student, still recovering from awful jaw surgery, recently engaged to my college boyfriend, frightened about my future of working at a big law firm, and a budding feminist lawyer who was writing her final school paper exploring why some college women weren’t calling themselves feminists even though their actions suggested as much.
It was a confusing time, to say the least.
And then Justice Kennedy entered my cluttered brain.
That day happened to be the same day the Supreme Court announced its decision upholding a federal ban on an abortion procedure. Justice Kennedy wrote the decision and he read it from the bench, just feet away from where I was sitting.
The thing is, when you hear a Justice reading a decision, it’s difficult to know where things are going. I could tell it wasn’t going well, but wasn’t sure just how bad it was until I heard Justice Kennedy read, as part of his opinion, that women regret their abortions and needed to be protected from themselves. Because of this paternalistic notion, women lost. I was devastated.
I don’t think Kennedy intended to inspire a feminist lion when he wrote and read aloud those words. Actually, I know he did not intend to do that. And yet, after a series of unconnected events happen to land me in that Court on that day at that time in my life, that’s exactly what happened.
And so my brain and heart that had already been in tumult entered full hurricane mode. As I left the Court, I was so confused, a confusion compounded by the fact that no one in the outside world seemed to know what had just happened. There was no crowd, protest, dance party showing support for women and the constitutional right to abortion on the Court steps (I don’t think anyone was expecting the decision, as it was a random April day). So I just walked away, alone, pondering my muddled brain and the newly-minted constitutional restriction on abortion.
I can trace my decision to become a reproductive rights lawyer to that moment in Court. Sure, I took a few detours to get there, but it was that day’s paternalism that drove me to the movement.
And after years of fighting bad reproductive rights proposals, I was back there on the Court steps yet again awaiting its decision in a major abortion case. But this time, I didn’t go inside to hear the Justices read from the bench. After some convincing from friends, I stayed outside with my repro rights and justice advocate warriors. I didn’t go inside to listen alone. I stayed outside to face the decision with my community of fighters.
And that’s when I could tell this time would be different. This would be no repeat of 2007. This time, we were there, the crowd was there, the dancing and singing. The world was watching.
When the decision came out, I captured the screams of relief on my phone. It was unbelievable. We won. Women actually won. The crowd’s energy was palpable. It wasn’t a fleeting thing, it was real. I understood that day that the movement for supporting reproductive health had changed, and we would be all right. And at that moment, I felt closure.
Not the clinic closure Texas wanted. But instead closure of a chapter of fast and furious restrictions passed in the last decade across the country to shut down access to abortion. This wasn’t just about a legal case striking down one state’s restrictions (Texas has a lot more restrictions on the books and a bunch of states have a bunch of other restrictions). This was about a public being awake to what is going on and about a public who was able to make their voices heard. This was about women shouting out their abortions, and being heard. This was about the sea of people in front of the Court — young and old — telling states they were watching. And they were upset. And they weren’t leaving.
Don’t get me wrong, the fight continues. In some ways, it will probably be even more intense than before as Texas and others will think of even more ridiculous ways to shut down access. But, the forces aligned this summer, this year, this case, to make it known to Texas and the other states (and members of Congress) that we see through your non-fact based, harmful, and actually pretty awfully drafted laws for what they are. And we aren’t going to back down from fighting them.
This was closure because it was a turning point. For the movement.
And for me.
Just a few weeks before, I had left my job as a reproductive rights policy lawyer to go into teaching. A multitude of reasons — needing more growth, wanting to learn other skills, needing more family time, and frankly, just burned out — all played into the big decision. But, until that moment on the Court steps I didn’t quite comprehend how big of a change it would be for me. In my “normal” life after such a big Court decision, I would go to the office, answer coalition calls, email staffers, huddle with my colleagues.
But not this time.
And so, after a brief hesitation on those Court steps unsure of my next step, I just walked away feeling renewed, hopeful, and ready.
I took the subway home, meeting my mom and kids at the playground. I snapped a picture of them holding my “The Burden is Undue” sign from the rally and emailed it to my former colleagues (now friends).
And then I turned off my phone.
Jumping up the playground ladder, I felt. Closure.