1 in 3 Women Get Abortions; Fewer Tell Their Stories to the U.S. Supreme Court

Abortion Demonstrations

A Supreme Court amicus brief filed by more than 100 attorneys in this term’s abortion case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, No. 15-274, garnered a lot of attention earlier this year.

The brief—filed by “lawyers who have obtained abortions and who have participated in a wide variety of different aspects of the legal profession, including at private law firms, corporations, multinational governmental organizations, nonprofit organizations, and law schools”—details their own abortions.

They said they “obtained their abortions at different ages and life stages, under a variety of circumstances, and for a range of reasons both medical and personal, but they are united in their strongly-held belief that they would not have been able to achieve the personal or professional successes they have achieved were it not for their ability to obtain safe and legal abortions.”

Yet another brief detailing personal stories of abortion was filed in the case—but this one was filed on behalf of storied Texas legislator Wendy Davis.

Davis—and her pink running shoes—came to fame in 2013 when she filibustered similar abortion regulations in Texas that are at issue in Whole Woman’s Health.

According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit below, the two provisions being challenged require “a physician performing an abortion to have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the location where the abortion is performed” and “all abortion clinics to comply with standards set for ambulatory surgical centers.”

Davis “famously stood for nearly thirteen hours to filibuster Senate Bill 5, an earlier, virtually identical version of the statute at issue,” her brief said.

During that 13 hour filibuster, Davis said she demanded “that her Senate colleagues prove that abortion clinics and procedures in Texas failed to safeguard women’s health. The challenge was not answered,” the brief said.

Data “maintained by Texas’s Department of State Health Services (‘DSHS’) demonstrates that abortion clinics in Texas did an excellent job of protecting the health of Texas women: (i) there were no maternal deaths related to legal abortions between 2009 and 2013; (ii) fewer than one out of every thousand women who underwent a legal abortion in Texas in 2013 reported any medical complications; and (iii) for at least the past five years, DSHS had not revoked or suspended the license of a single abortion facility for noncompliance with its strict health and safety regulations.”

“Yet the legislators who supported the abortion-related provisions [], supposedly seeking to improve ‘women’s health,’ did not bother to look at these crucial, readily available data from their own State’s expert agency,” the brief said.

“Instead, they had other goals,”—namely, eliminating access to abortion for Texas women, the brief said.

The brief—including stories from three other legislators—said the “reasons women choose abortion are as varied as the women themselves.”

Davis had two abortions for health reasons, the brief said. Another—an Ohio state legislator—said she had an abortion after being raped during her military service. And another—a Nevada state legislator running for a U.S. House seat—said she had an abortion after becoming pregnant as an unwed teenager.

Regardless of their reasons, the brief said the amici “are grateful that they were able to exercise their constitutional rights in nearby doctor’s offices and abortion clinics without the burdens of travel, delay, and additional expense that would be imposed on Texas women” if the regulations are upheld.

It urges the court to protect the right to an abortion, noting that one in three U.S. women have an abortion in their lifetime.

With these amicus briefs, the justices will hear at least some of those experiences.

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