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February 03, 2023

Post-Roe, scramble for reproductive rights intensifies

Three legal advocates urged lawyers who support reproductive rights to become more involved in the issue after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The advocates spoke at a program Feb. 2 at the American Bar Association Midyear Meeting in New Orleans. They discussed how the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs has affected Louisiana and the nation, and what lawyers can do to help women and change the laws in individual states.

On June 24, 2022, the court ruled in Dobbs that 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 especially hard, she said, because the state bans abortion and is surrounded by other states that also ban the procedure, 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,” Schilling said.

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, she said, in rural areas of the state outside of New Orleans. “If criminalization picks up, that’s where it will be,” she added.

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 said, because “the Louisiana Department of Health is really completely missing an opportunity to provide additional guidance to medical providers in this moment.”

Schilling said Lift Louisiana is leading efforts with the ACLU to train and organize lawyers to represent people in criminal cases. Also, with the Louisiana legislative session coming soon, lawyers will be talking with legislators and testifying on the issue, she said.

“For folks in Louisiana who want to get engaged, then that is the time to do it, to tell your lawmakers what they need to do in terms of changes to existing law and not to pass some of these other insane measures,” Schilling said.

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

The program was part of the ABA Center for Public Interest Law's #ForAll track of programming at the Midyear Meeting. To learn more about the ABA Commission on Sexual & Domestic Violence and other ABA activities, please see the 2022 ABA Impact Report.