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100+ Women Lawyers Discuss Their Abortions in Supreme Court Brief

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on January 11, 2016 11:58 AM

Millions of women have had abortions, but their stories are largely private; few share their experiences with the general public, and almost none with the Supreme Court.

But as the High Court prepares to hear arguments over Texas's extremely restrictive abortion regulations, 113 women in law have submitted a virtually unprecedented amicus brief detailing their own experiences with abortion. The goal, the brief explains, is to "inform the Court of the impact" abortion rights have had "on the lives of women attorneys, and, by extension, on this nation."

"I Am an Attorney Because I Had an Abortion"

"To the world, I am an attorney who had an abortion, and, to myself, I am an attorney because I had an abortion." That's how the amici's argument begins: a simple declaration of the impact family planning has had on the lives of attorneys. "For all Amici, meaningful access to reproductive choice allowed them to become, remain, or thrive as lawyers," the brief explains.

And those amici are a diverse group. The 113 women who signed on to the brief come from private practice, academia, government jobs, public interest groups, and even law school. (Indeed, there are only 107 women lawyers on the brief. The remaining six are still students.)

Not all 100-some attorneys detail the nature or circumstances of their choice not to have a child. Instead, the brief focuses on a few stories that represent the importance of reproductive autonomy in the amici's lives and careers.

But the stories that are told are individual and personal. They included a public defender who ended a pregnancy at 16, allowing her to break "the familial cycle of teenage parenthood." An in-house attorney at a major university recounts how her abortion allowed her to complete law school and obtain "two excellent in house counsel jobs, two children, marriage, three step-children, six grandchildren..."

Personal Stories, Meant to Sway

The brief urges the Supreme Court to overturn the Texas law that places some of the nation's most burdensome requirements on abortion providers. It also seeks to provide a familiar face to abortion and sway the Court's swing vote towards amici's side.

Justice Kennedy authored the 2007 Gonzalez v. Carhart decision that stated that women could experience "severe depression and loss of esteem" following an abortion. As Slate's Mark Stern notes, this signified a possible shift from Kennedy's earlier support for abortion. (Not to mention that the overwhelming majority of women do not regret their decision to have an abortion.) "Had he now decided that millions of faceless, nameless women would be better off emotionally if the state forced them to carry each pregnancy to term?" Stern wonders.

Amici, and the rest of us, might find out soon. The case at issue, Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, is scheduled for oral arguments in March and will likely be decided by the summer.

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