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February 06, 2023 Top Legal News of the Week

Midyear Meeting kicks off with range of programs

The ABA Midyear Meeting in New Orleans began Thursday, Feb. 2, with programs covering a wide array of legal topics, including abortion, minors on death row, removing Confederate statues, extraordinary writs and intersectional discrimination claims.

At the ABA Midyear Meeting in New Orleans, panelists address attendees at a program sponsored by the Section of State & Local Government Law.

At the ABA Midyear Meeting in New Orleans, panelists address attendees at a program sponsored by the Section of State & Local Government Law.

The meeting continued Friday with programs on issues such as prosecutorial bias, heirs’ property, problems in election law, forced marriage, juvenile justice innovations, gun violence in New Orleans, forced climate displacement and the state of criminal justice across the United States.

One program Thursday featured three panelists discussing how the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has affected Louisiana and the nation. On June 24, 2022, the court ruled there is no constitutional right to abortion, overturning its previous landmark ruling in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade.

Aracely Muñoz, director of the Washington, D.C., office of the Center for Reproductive Rights, called the Dobbs decision “a real gut punch.”

The ruling, she said, has particularly hurt women of color, low-income women and immigrants. Women in Louisiana were hit particularly hard, she said, because the state bans abortion and is surrounded by other states that also ban abortions, making it difficult for women who need medical services to travel to doctors who provide them.

Women with money can travel to distant states, Muñoz said, but such travel “is not a reality for many people.”

Ellie Schilling, a partner with Schonekas, Evans, McGoey & McEachin in New Orleans, said efforts in some states to criminalize the act of “aiding and abetting” abortions also put lawyers at risk. “Just giving legal advice could be criminalized,” she said.

A central issue, Schilling said, is not just about access to abortion but also access to maternal health care. “Those same people who either have been shut out of the health care system or have a well-deserved distrust of the system, who are often mistreated as a part of that system, they are also now experiencing pregnancy complications and poor birth outcomes because of these laws.”

Michelle Erenberg, executive director of Lift Louisiana, said her group and others are “trying to build a bench of attorneys” to help women in need. The situation is especially dire in rural areas of the state outside of New Orleans, she said.

In Louisiana, Erenberg said, state agencies can’t do much to help because state law restricts them from “counseling on abortion, referring on abortion, funding abortion, getting anywhere near the topic of abortion.” That’s a shame, she added, because “the Louisiana Department of Health is really completely missing an opportunity to provide additional guidance to medical providers in this moment.”

The panel discussion was moderated by Maricarmen Garza, chief of programs with the Tahirih Justice Center. The program was co-sponsored by the ABA Commission on Sexual & Domestic Violence and the ABA Section of Civil Rights & Social Justice.

The Midyear Meeting concludes Monday, Feb. 6, following an all-day session of the ABA House of Delegates. The policy making body, with nearly 600 members from across the country, will debate approximately 30 issues, including a proposal to eliminate required admissions testing for incoming law students. The House agenda is online here.

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