By Kristen Barton, Texas Tech University
The decision in the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade was a landmark victory for legal abortion access and set an important legal precedent. The case involved a woman in Texas, and now history seems to be repeating itself as another case from Texas is heard by the Court.
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the biggest abortion case of this generation, a challenge to HB2, an anti-choice Texas law enacted in 2013. HB2 forces clinics to meet expensive and medically unnecessary standards, including turning clinics into "mini-hospitals" and requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Because these medically unnecessary requirements are so difficult to meet and were designed to limit access to legal abortion, more than half of the clinics have already closed and all but 10 would close if the Supreme Court upholds the law. This would leave most of the Texas population, especially in rural areas, without access to safe, legal abortion and other reproductive healthcare services.
David Brown, a staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, is part of the team fighting to end HB2 in what is the biggest abortion case since 1992. I had the opportunity to talk with Brown about the impact of this case and how the team is preparing for the historic legal battle ahead.
Tell me a little about yourself and how you ended up with this case?
David Brown: I'm a staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights. There are a dozen lawyers on our team, representing reproductive healthcare centers throughout the country. I'm also from Texas and speak Spanish so I have a real connection to the case.
How will this case impact young people in Texas and why should they be following it?
DB: I think there's a number of reasons. At its most basic, the availability of reproductive healthcare in Texas is at stake. Young people don't remember a time before Roe v. Wade when legal abortion care was simply not available. That is certainly the direction Texas is trying to move in. Young people should absolutely be concerned about going backward in time and losing the ability to control their own health, including the ability to decide whether and when to have children. I think the second thing that young people should be concerned about is the bigger question of 'who gets to decide?' For politicians to be able to say 'we're going to make this important decision for you,' is outrageous to people. Young people who care about whether important decisions about their futures is up to them or whether it's up to politicians will be keeping an eye on this case.
How does it feel to be arguing the biggest abortion case in a generation in front of the Supreme Court?
DB: I won't personally argue the case (my colleague Stephanie Toti will being doing so), however, it's an honor and a privilege for a young attorney like myself to be involved in a case that will have profound national impact. Even though I won't actually be dialoguing with the justices, it's still a tremendous honor to be able to work on this case. I have a strong degree of confidence in our case. The evidence is so strong and the law is so clear. It's a privilege to be able to defend women's reproductive rights. I know that win or lose on this case, we'll still have another battle ahead of us. This is the career I've chosen and I know I'm on the right side of history.
What kind of precedent could this case set?
DB: What the Supreme Court decides is binding on all the lower courts, and as a matter of constitutional law, its decisions are binding throughout the country. The Supreme Court will have to decide whether sham laws - laws that use protecting women's health as an excuse to close clinics and cut off women's access to healthcare -- are constitutional. We're confident the Court will uphold the four decades of precedent that has been in place since Roe and tell states they cannot prevent women from accessing their constitutional right.
How can young people get involved with this case and what's happening in Texas?
DB: Everyone should check out our website on the case, protectabortionaccess.org, which provides a lot of resources for folks to get involved. And beyond that, supporting your friends when they make important choices about their reproductive lives and supporting the voices of women who speak out about abortion can be extremely helpful. It can be a challenge in some communities to speak out honestly about abortion. Being supportive of friends and willing to tackle this issue and say it's important to me and to future generations would be a tremendously positive step.
How has HB2 already affected abortion access in this country?
DB: HB2 has already had devastating impact on women in Texas. Thus far it has closed more than half of the abortion clinics in the state, and it could leave all but 10 open if the Court rules in the law's favor. This means women face tremendous barriers when it comes to accessing abortion. They may have to wait weeks for a clinic appointment to become available; in many cases they've had to drive hundreds of miles to reach the nearest clinic; they've had to incur financial costs and issues like child care. In some cases, the burden of obtaining a legal abortion is too great and women have taken matters into their own hands to terminate a pregnancy.
On the day that the arguments are heard, what does your team hope to hear from the Notorious RBG that will let you all know the arguments are going well and give you hope this case will go in your favor?
DB: We want to make sure all the justices understand this law has absolutely no basis in medicine or science, and does nothing to protect women's health. On the contrary, if fully implemented, the law would have a devastating impact on women in Texas and set an example for states across the country looking to restrict abortion rights.
It's been 43 years since Roe v. Wade and now abortion rights activists are once again defending the essential right to make our own decisions about our bodies and futures. Brown and his team are working for a chance to propel our nation forward, instead of pushing it back further.
Kristen Barton is 20 years old, a Texas native, and a student at Texas Tech University.