What It Was Like To Work On The Landmark Supreme Court Case On Abortion

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Rupali Sharma is a legal fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented the lead plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The views expressed here are her own.

For many years before joining the Center for Reproductive Rights, I wanted to be a reproductive rights litigator. It’s because when I would see politicians passing politically motivated laws meant to restrict access to abortion — such as the deceptive clinic shutdown law in Texas — I would see what some people thought of women, and it wasn't a whole lot. I was committed to changing that. So, Monday, June 27 was one of the most nerve-racking days of my life. As a legal fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented healthcare providers challenging the deceptive abortion clinic shutdown law before the U.S. Supreme Court, I was anxiously awaiting a decision on the most significant reproductive rights case in a generation. The case began in Texas, where politicians passed a law known as HB2, which, if left to be fully implemented, would have closed over 75% of the abortion clinics in the state for the 5.4 million women residents of reproductive age. These sham regulations, which forced clinics to spend millions to become mini-hospitals, and required doctors to get hard-to-obtain admitting privileges, were designed solely to deprive millions of women abortion access.

More than 40 years after the Supreme Court ruled that women have a constitutional right to abortion, the fight is still not over.

I worked on the case for more than a year. On the day the decision came down, I couldn’t stop thinking about the women who would be turned away from medical appointments if the court did not rule in our favor, and of the already emotionally drained healthcare providers who would have to defy their instincts and would instead have to close their doors to patients who needed their care. The ruling was a game changer. I can’t describe how thrilled we felt when we learned that the court had affirmed what I and many others worked so hard to prove since the Texas law’s passage in 2013 — that clinic shutdown laws violate a woman’s fundamental right to abortion. The case made clear that sham laws such as Texas’ essentially punished women for trying to exercise their rights, subjecting them to grievous harms and severe obstacles without any corresponding benefits. For women in Texas who were able to travel the lengthy distances — hours in the second-largest state in both size and population — imposed by mass clinic closures, they still faced protracted wait times that could have pushed them into later, more dangerous stages of pregnancy. Other women were compelled to take out high-interest loans, sell their personal possessions, or sleep in their cars just to pay for the procedures.
Photo: courtesy of Center for Reproductive Rights.
Rupali Sharma, a legal fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights, worked on the case.
As grueling and sometimes disheartening as the fight to restore abortion access in Texas became, I knew there was nowhere else in the world I would have rather been than at the side of the fearless women and providers fighting to keep clinics open and ensure all women had access to safe, compassionate abortion care. The stories of women who were denied care because of Texas’ law kept me motivated to continue fighting the bogus claims and dehumanizing rhetoric of politicians working to pass sham clinic shutdown laws. More than 40 years after the Supreme Court ruled that women have a constitutional right to abortion, the fight is still not over. A state that is okay forcing a woman to sleep in her car to get the health care she is constitutionally entitled to — much less that forces her to take matters into her own hands — has relegated her to second-class citizenship and ignored her humanity. This is all the more true for women of color, who are not only more likely to face barriers to access, but told in countless other ways that they don’t matter. Growing up, I saw that my mother’s inability to afford certain medications or treatments not only prolonged the time it took to recover from a given illness, but also reinforced the notion that she didn’t deserve well-being on par with someone who could afford them. I promised then that I would do whatever I could to change this, and I will continue working with reproductive rights leaders to ensure all women, of all backgrounds and status, have control of their bodies and their futures. The landmark ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt took a crucial step in this direction by affirming a woman’s right to compassion, respect, and dignity in accessing abortion care. In the weeks since, we’ve seen abortion restrictions crumble in five states, yet hundreds of baseless and oppressive abortion laws across the nation continue to prevent a truly just and equal America. So today we celebrate the affirmation of women’s constitutional rights. Tomorrow we’ll get back to work.

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