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May 06, 2022 CHAIR COLUMN

Bonus Chair's Column on the recent leaked draft SCOTUS opinion

Though I have already released a Chair’s Column this month, I write again on behalf of the leadership of the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice to voice alarm at the content of the leaked draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which would overrule Roe and allow states to ban abortion at any point during pregnancy. The draft opinion ignores the profound impact pregnancy has on people’s bodies and lives, and generally ignores women and pregnant people impacted by abortion bans. In place of Roe and Casey, the draft opinion adopts the weakest version of rational basis review. If this draft becomes the final opinion from the Supreme Court, complete bans on abortion could be upheld. Overturning Roe could also endanger the right to privacy that should protect woman and pregnant people from prosecution for a miscarriage and affords people access to safe and legal contraceptives. As the nation awaits the Court’s ultimate ruling on this issue, we express our profound concern for the women and pregnant people in the more than 20 states posed to effectively outlaw abortions if Roe is overturned, leaving large swaths of the country without access to legal abortion.

The draft opinion concludes that the Court lacks the authority or expertise to consider what abortion means for people’s lives. In doing so, it ignores empirical evidence before the Court from health experts and economists demonstrating that access to safe and legal abortion has been critical to people’s health, lives, and futures, as well as to advancing gender equality, including the ability to pursue an education, a profession, and economic security. We know, from experiences in the United States, that making abortions illegal will not end abortions. While those who can afford it may be able to travel to states providing safe and legal abortions, many poor and working-class people may resort to unsafe, illegal procedures that could cost them their lives. This result occurred too often prior to the Roe decision.

The leaked draft applies an extremely narrow approach to determining what liberty rights are guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, specifically basing them on whether the specific practice was “deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions.” Although the draft opinion claims that its approach would not threaten other liberty rights (because abortion involves potential life), its reasoning could result in overruling landmark Supreme Court decisions protecting other fundamental liberties, such as rights to contraception, to raise a family, to sexual intimacy, and to marry a person of the same sex or different race. Access to safe and legal abortion is not just a women’s issue. It is also a racial justice issue, a transgender and nonbinary rights issue, an equity issue, and a privacy issue which affects all of us. The Court’s draft opinion essentially removes bodily autonomy for everyone. That is a chilling realization.

Please remember that the leaked opinion is a draft and should NOT be treated as a final order of the Court. Abortion remains legal in the United States at this time.

Throughout its over 50-year history, CRSJ has advocated for the equal rights of women, LGBTQ+, BIPOC communities, and all those underrepresented in our society. We join with the millions of voices across the U.S. demanding that Congress and state leaders take immediate action to defend the right to privacy in bodily autonomy.

Please also refer to ABA President Turner's statement from May 3, 2022.

Beth K. Whittenbury is the 2021-22 Chair of the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice and past leader of the ABA Commission on Youth at Risk. Currently, she is the Principal at Beth K. Whittenbury & Associates.