For almost five decades, the right to abortion has helped advance gender equality in the U.S. This right, essential to all people capable of becoming pregnant, protects each individual’s ability to decide and control their own reproductive future.
The reliance on the right to abortion has enabled generations of women to pursue personal, educational, and employment opportunities and life goals and helped to counter the long history of discrimination that has limited women’s legal, social, and economic progress.
That’s why hundreds of economists, athletes, gender equality advocates and scholars, and organizations representing young women and women lawyers, are urging the Supreme Court to throw out a Mississippi abortion ban and uphold the right to abortion. They presented their arguments in numerous “friend of the court” briefs filed in support of a case the Center for Reproductive Rights will be arguing on December 1.
The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is the most consequential abortion rights case in generations
The case challenges a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy that was ruled unconstitutional in lower courts. It marks the first time the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of a pre-viability abortion ban since Roe v. Wade in 1973. In Roe, the Court recognized that the decision whether to continue a pregnancy or have an abortion—which impacts a person’s body, health, family, and future—belongs to the individual, not the government.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health was brought by the Center and its partners on behalf of Jackson Women’s Health Organization — the last remaining abortion clinic left in Mississippi.
The “friend of the court” briefs assert that:
- Generations of women have relied on having the right to abortion–whether or not they exercise that right–to make decisions for their health, lives, and futures.
- The right to abortion has empowered women to participate more fully in society and to attain higher levels of education, employment, and economic security.
- Research confirms that abortion care has had a measurable and significant impact on these advancements.
- Abortion bans disproportionately impact women of color, young women, women with low incomes, rural women, and others facing discriminatory barriers to care.
Highlights of the amicus briefs and their arguments:
Abortion has a measurable and significant impact on gender equality.
The impact of abortion access on gender equality is measurable and significant, according to this brief by over 150 leading economists. Advancements in statistics have enabled economists to “credibly and rigorously measure the causal impact of a wide range of policies, including the impact of abortion access on women’s lives.”
The research shows that Roe has played a causal role in women’s social and economic advancement, with the greatest impact on young women and Black women. For example, for young women, “…access to abortion increased the probability they finished college by nearly 20 percentage points and the probability that they entered a professional occupation by nearly 40 percentage points.” These effects “tended to be greater among Black women.” The brief also states that the “social, cultural, and legal shifts in the thirty years since Casey have not erased the need for abortion access…” For example, the brief cites the limited availability of reliable and affordable contraception and childcare, as well as inflexible family leave policies. For these reasons, overturning or limiting Roe and Casey would directly harm people seeking access to abortion care. Read the brief by economists.
Athletes depend on the right to abortion to fully and equally participate in athletics.
This brief argues that without abortion access, “women and girls would be deprived of the multitude of collateral benefits that result from athletic participation, including greater educational success, career advancement, enhanced self-esteem, and improved health.” Among amici are over 500 athletes representing all levels of sport from Olympic gold medalists to high school players, with many sharing their personal stories of accessing abortion care at a critical point in their athletic careers.
For example, Crissy Perham, a swimmer and an Olympic gold medalist, described her abortion experience as being “…given a second chance at life…That choice ultimately led me to being an Olympian, a college graduate, and a proud mother today.” The brief explains further that the window in which athletes can reach their highest level of performance is limited and that pregnancy fundamentally alters a person’s body in a way that is incompatible with peak athletic performance. Without access to abortion care, women would be unable to fully and equally participate in athletics to the benefit of themselves, their communities, and their country. Read the brief by athletes.
Abortion is protected by the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of liberty and equality.
The National Women’s Law Center and 72 other organizations dedicated to gender equality argue that overturning Roe would violate the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of liberty and equality for all Americans. They also show why the right is necessary to secure the “autonomy, health, and economic opportunity of people who can become pregnant.” Overturning Roe would “uniquely harm” people of color, young people, those with low incomes, LGBTQ individuals, those in abusive relationships, and people with disabilities.
The brief offers research that Mississippi’s own record of hostility toward reproductive rights has resulted in gender disparities in economic and health outcomes. “Compared to women who obtained abortion care, those who were denied such care and subsequently gave birth were nearly four times more likely to live below the federal poverty line and less likely to have a full-time job several months later.” Read the brief by gender equality organizations.
Young women rely on the right to abortion to advance their educational, employment, and economic opportunities at a decisive point in their careers.
Young women rely on the right to abortion during “the pivotal years when they are embarking on educational, career, and personal journeys that shape their lives,” according to a brief submitted by YWCA USA and three other organizations that promote the welfare and status of young women, and particularly, young women of color. When young women are able to make decisions about their reproductive lives, they can reach their goals in regard to, “educational attainment, workforce participation, long-term economic security, and health.”
The brief presents research demonstrating that “Since Roe, young women have increasingly and steadily attended college and pursued careers…Research makes clear that there is a connection between abortion access and educational attainment…abortion access led to significant increases in high school graduation, college entrance, and labor force participation, particularly among Black women.” Finally, the brief points out that young women have only ever known a life in which the right to abortion care exists. Overturning Roe would strip young women of a right they have relied on to build their lives and determine their futures and would jeopardize their health, education, employment, and quality of life. Read the brief by YWCA USA and other amici on behalf of young women.
Women lawyers have relied on the right to abortion to make gains in their field.
The Supreme Court cannot overturn Roe because of women’s “widespread and long-standing reliance” on the right to abortion before viability, according to a brief submitted by the National Association of Women Lawyers and 29 other organizations representing women lawyers. As this brief notes: “Women attorneys rely on the rights guaranteed by Roe and Casey to advance their careers and achieve greater gender parity in the legal field.”
The brief also addresses the reality of what losing the right would mean for women lawyers: “Considering the limited resources and opportunities available to women lawyers with children, particularly against the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic, losing the ability to decide whether and when to have their children, and how many children to have, would undoubtedly be detrimental to women lawyers’ careers.” Read the brief by organizations of women lawyers.
No Middle Ground
The Supreme Court cannot uphold Mississippi’s abortion ban without overturning the core holding of Roe v. Wade and almost 50 years of precedent. As these briefs demonstrate, since the Supreme Court first recognized the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before viability in Roe, the right to abortion has been a lifeline for generations of people wishing to reach their educational, career, economic, and personal goals.
If Roe were overturned, almost half of the states in the country are poised to ban abortion and 12 states, including Mississippi, have already enacted “trigger bans” to outlaw abortion as soon as Roe is overturned. Read “What if the Supreme Court overturns Roe?”
More than 50 amicus briefs were filed in support of the Center’s case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Click here to see the list.
Read more about the case: