Over 350 lawyers, legal professionals who had abortions file brief in landmark Supreme Court case

The Supreme Court is hearing June Medical Services vs. Gee in March.

December 2, 2019, 4:43 PM

More than 350 lawyers and legal professionals who had abortions filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court Monday as part of the latest landmark abortion case.

"My hope is that my classmate on the Supreme Court will not want to demonize me," Claudia Hammerman, a partner at the prestigious law firm Paul, Weiss, told ABC News. Hammerman is also the lead signer of the brief and a Harvard Law School alumnae. "I was smart and I deserved my career and I deserved to be able to give it my all and to become a mother when I was fully, emotionally, psychologically, and in terms of resources prepared to become the best mother I could be."

The legal professionals included attorneys, law professors, public defenders, prosecutors, retired judges, current law students and a senior attorney with the Department of Justice, who joined the brief anonymously and "on behalf of herself and all the other lawyers working in the highest echelons of government who have had abortions." Two MacArthur "Genius" Fellows are also among those who signed on.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in June Medical Services vs. Gee, an abortion case out of Louisiana, on March 4, 2020. In question is a Louisiana law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges with a nearby hospital. A similar law, out of Texas, was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional in 2016.

Amicus -- or "friends of the court" -- briefs are filed on behalf of people who are not formally part of a case but who support one side. On Monday, several briefs were filed in the June Medical Services case urging the Supreme Court to strike down the law.

One brief was from the lawyers and legal professionals; another was from about a dozen "storytellers" from a variety of backgrounds who have had abortions; one was from abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, the Nationals Abortion Federation, Physicians for Reproductive Health and Abortion Care Network.

The brief from legal professionals reads, "they would not have been able to realize their personal and/or professional goals were it not for their ability to control their reproductive lives."

They wanted to put the brief together to show the justices that abortion was not an "abstract" concept but something that directly affects the legal community, Alexia Korberg, an associate at Paul, Weiss who worked on it, told ABC News.

PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court Building is seen in Washington, April 19, 2018.
The Supreme Court Building is seen in Washington D.C., April 19, 2018.
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

A variety of personal stories were told in the brief, ranging from women who had abortions as teenagers to those who had them as mothers facing extreme health risks and fetal diagnoses. Some of the women said they had abortions while in abusive relationships, while others were dealing with depression or addiction when they got pregnant.

"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," one woman, who was accepted to Harvard Law School shortly after getting an abortion, said in the brief.

In addition to the question of hospital admitting privileges -- which the Supreme Court in 2016 deemed an undue burden unnecessary to improve the health outcomes of abortion, a statistically safe procedure when done by medical professionals -- June Medical Services vs. Gee also includes a challenge from Louisiana on the rights of abortion providers and organizations to challenge abortion restrictions on behalf of patients.

Should the Supreme Court rule that providers and organizations do not have the right to represent patients in a third-party capacity, individual women would have to personally challenge laws, potentially putting their names into the spotlight and delaying their access to an abortion.

A number of the women in the amicus briefs explain why they would not have been able to personally challenge laws, including potential stigmas they may have faced personally and professionally.

One woman in the legal professionals brief who "received her first birth control prescription at the very same Planned Parenthood in front of which she and her family regularly protested," said that putting her name on the brief and saying she had an abortion "will likely cost me my relationship with my mother."

One woman in the "storytellers" brief said she would not have had the resources to sue the state, while another, who had two abortions due to pregnancy complications, said she would not have emotionally been able to handle bringing a lawsuit to obtain an abortion.

For the 2016 case, Whole Woman's Health vs. Hellerstedt, a number of women, including over 110 legal professionals, also participated in filing amicus briefs.

Korberg, who worked on that brief as well, said many of the signers have told her "how empowering the experience was," adding that the response then "was overwhelmingly positive."

"It is empowering," Hammerman, who also works abortion cases, agreed, "and I do feel it's absolutely critical that people who can speak about it and normalize do that -- make the roads for others."

"I would never have been able to help the people I've helped as a lawyer ... had I not been allowed the freedom to determine my own future, by controlling my own body at a pivotal point in my life," a former public defender said in the brief filed Monday.

Related Topics