Having exercised what they say is their right to a safe and legal abortion, for varied personal and medical reasons, the women said they were compelled to tell the nation’s highest court the role it played in their life trajectories.
“Becoming a first-generation professional would have been impossible without access to safe and legal abortion services,” one signer wrote. “The ability to make my own choice, to even have a choice, gave me control over my life when I felt like I was utterly powerless.”
A woman who was accepted to Harvard Law School shortly after her abortion said in the brief: “A doctor’s appointment years ago is not the most important part of who I am, but it has allowed my life to be everything that it is today.”
Another described her 31-year-old mother’s death in 1959, after she attempted to perform her own abortion.
“My mother used a knitting needle and was dead of sepsis within 24 hours,” she wrote in an email included in Monday’s filing. “More than loss of career or marriage, or disability, she lost her life. And she was just one of thousands of girls and women who died in that terrible, wasteful way.”
The brief quoted from more than two dozen personal stories, illustrating myriad reasons a person may terminate a pregnancy — abortions can help women break the cycle of teenage parenthood, escape abusive relationships, and pursue academic or career goals. The stories also touched on times women — many named and some anonymous — faced fetal and maternal conditions that led them to end a deeply wanted pregnancy.
Many of the brief’s signers are women with whom the Supreme Court justices went to law school, clerked alongside and employed as clerks. Some are the female attorneys who stand up and argue before them.
Claudia Hammerman, the lead lawyer and a litigation partner with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, said they wrote the filing with the five male justices tasked with deciding the upcoming case in mind.
“We wanted the stories to help them understand that many women joining a profession — whose rigors and demands they comprehend — are largely dependent on their ability to control their reproductive lives,” she said. “When people who you otherwise believe make good, cogent and sensible decisions had an abortion, say an abortion had a profoundly positive impact on their lives and their ability to direct the course of their lives, it becomes harder to demonize the choice.”
Hammerman continued, “My hope is that the next brief like this has 2,000 signatures. I want there to be women signers who were classmates of every single one of these male justices.”
The amicus brief was filed in June Medical Services v. Gee, the first abortion case to be heard by the Supreme Court since its conservative majority was reinforced by President Trump’s two appointees, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Neil M. Gorsuch.
The court agreed in October to review a Louisiana law that requires any doctor performing an abortion to have admitting privileges at a state-approved hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. Those in favor of the law have argued it’s meant to protect pregnant women who could have emergency complications during the procedure. Opponents call the rationale “pretextual.”
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association, two leading authorities, legal abortion is one of the safest medical procedures performed in the United States.
Laws like Louisiana’s, which result in the closure of clinics, make it harder for women to exercise their right to a legal abortion. When clinics close, patients seeking care have to travel farther and confront other burdens, including fewer doctors, longer waiting times and increased crowding, the brief said.
Oral arguments are scheduled for early March, when the court will examine whether the law unduly burdens women’s access to abortion.
In 2016, the Supreme Court voted 5 to 3 to strike down an almost identical law that originated in Texas.
The opinion, written by Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer and joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and now-retired Anthony M. Kennedy, held that the admitting-privileges requirement “provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes an ‘undue burden’ on their constitutional right to do so.”
The Texas law would have closed 20 clinics in the state. The Louisiana law, which passed in 2014, would force all but one of the state’s abortion clinics to close.
At the time of the Texas case, 113 women signed on to a similar brief.
Alexia Korberg, associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and a lead lawyer on both briefs, attributed the increase in signers to a number of causes: the movement trying to destigmatize abortion, to make it less abstract and to encourage people to discuss their experiences.
“Oftentimes when we talk about abortion, we speak about it as an abstraction. It becomes a battle of a person’s religious feelings or thoughts on when life begins. To anyone who has had an abortion, it wasn’t abstract at all,” said Korberg.
The filing told stories at an individual level, but she added, “If you zoom out, these are women who were able to go to high school and college, become and stay lawyers. The constitutional right to safe and legal abortions has had a profound impact on the legal profession."
Many of the women who signed Monday’s brief say they felt a responsibility to raise their voice on behalf of those who cannot.
“I feel the need to speak out to protect the rights of every other woman who deserves access to this care. I am a licensed attorney ONLY because I had access to a safe abortion,” one signer wrote, noting that participating in the brief would likely end her relationship with her mother. “I cannot stay silent anymore."
Robert Barnes contributed to this report.