A new alliance of reproductive rights groups aims to “help those involved with abortion care navigate [a] confusing and hostile legal landscape and to provide a strong defense against bullies.”
Six leading reproductive rights organizations announced on Feb. 22 the formation of a new Abortion Defense Network to connect people facing legal threats related to abortion with attorneys who can provide legal advice and representation in civil and criminal proceedings.
“The overturning of Roe v. Wade has unleashed nonstop legal chaos and confusion,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Abortion providers, doctors and even family members of people seeking abortion care are unsure what they might be prosecuted for. Many states have conflicting and overlapping abortion bans that make it nearly impossible to know what is legal and what is not. People are worried they may be prosecuted even for helping someone find abortion services across state lines.
“This initiative brings together some of the best lawyers in the country to provide legal advice, as well as criminal and civil defense. In this daunting post-Roe reality, we want everyone to have legal support and to know their rights.”
With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, clinicians, patients and people helping them are increasingly targeted by anti-abortion police and prosecutors. In July 2022, Indiana prosecutors investigated a doctor who helped a 10-year-old rape victim obtain an abortion. At the time, abortion was legal in the state. Then in August, a Nebraska prosecutor charged a mother and daughter with murder for obtaining and using abortion pills, with evidence police obtained from their Facebook messages to each other. But even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Texas prosecutors charged a woman with murder after she went to an emergency room experiencing a miscarriage.
“We are in the midst of one of the greatest public health and legal crises of our time. This moment is unprecedented and so must be our response,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. “That’s why this united front of organizations dedicated to defending abortion access has come together. Our coordinated structure is meant to protect abortion patients, providers, and supporters from the fallout of a confusing morass of laws and policies whose intent is to confuse, scare, and punish people in this country. We are bringing our resources to bear as we work towards a world where everyone can access the care and resources they need to live lives with freedom and dignity.”
The Abortion Defense Network will be managed by the Lawyering Project and run in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and Resources for Abortion Delivery (RAD). These organizations are collaborating with state and regional public interest organizations, public agencies committed to abortion access and private law firms, including some of the nation’s largest and most esteemed private law firms such as Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, Goodwin Procter LLP, Hogan Lovells US LLP, Morrison & Foerster LLP, O’Melveny & Myers LLP, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP.
We are in the midst of one of the greatest public health and legal crises of our time. This moment is unprecedented and so must be our response.Fatima Goss Graves
“The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade stripped women of control over their lives and their bodies and put their health and, in some cases, their lives at risk. At the same time, bans enacted by politicians without regard to women’s health and lives have created a legal morass that is ripe for exploitation,” said Jennifer Dalven, director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at the ACLU. “We’ve created the Abortion Defense Network to help those involved with abortion care navigate this confusing and hostile legal landscape and to provide a strong defense against bullies who seek to intimidate people providing, supporting or seeking abortion care.”
The Abortion Defense Network provides legal assistance directly to people in the U.S. working to provide or support abortion, whereas people seeking abortion will be referred to the Repro Legal Helpline, operated by If/When/How. People will be matched with “values-aligned attorneys” and be provided with information and resources to not only understand their rights but fight back against unjust proceedings meant to harass and intimidate them. The initiative also provides funds to pay for attorney fees and other legal expenses in criminal and civil proceedings.
“Politicians who don’t respect the dignity of pregnant people will stop at nothing to advance their anti-abortion agenda, including using the legal system as a weapon against people who provide and support abortion care,” said Cassie Ehrenberg, senior counsel for pro bono initiatives at the Lawyering Project. “The Abortion Defense Network stands ready to fight back against these attacks, harnessing an impressive array of legal resources so that abortion providers and supporters can continue showing up every day for their communities.”
If/When/How’s Repro Legal Helpline serves people seeking abortions who have legal questions or who have been threatened with arrest or prosecution after self-managing an abortion. Legal Helpline can attorneys provide legal information and advice, representation, and financial assistance for legal needs through the Repro Legal Defense Fund. “Every day at the Repro Legal Helpline, we hear from people seeking abortion who are confused and scared about their legal rights,” said Rebecca Wang, If/When/How legal support counsel.
“As the legal ground continues to rapidly shift under us, it’s essential that people know there is a robust legal community here to help keep them safe,” Wang continued. “This network will ensure that everyone—from abortion seekers who the Helpline continues to serve, to providers and supporters—can access legal support. The overturning of Roe v. Wade was not the beginning of abortion criminalization in the United States, and we are prepared to continue to protect and defend people from the lasting harms of our criminal legal system.”
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