by Danielle White, Esq.
General Counsel, Heartbeat International
I want to take us back to a moment. It’s April of 1992. The pro-life movement has been hard at work on many fronts, and pro-life legal professionals now believe that the composition of the Supreme Court is finally favorable to overturning the devastating Roe v. Wade decision. After Planned Parenthood challenged a slew of abortion regulations enacted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the long-awaited oral argument has arrived.
The attorney arguing on behalf of Planned Parenthood approaches the podium, and she opens with what she believes is her strongest argument: “Since this Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, a generation of American women have come of age secure in the knowledge that the Constitution provides the highest level of protection for their child-bearing decisions.” She says that Roe v. Wade has “enabled millions of women to participate fully and equally in society.”
The Court bought it.
When the Court issued its opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, it embraced the idea that women need abortion to “participate equally in the social and economic life of the nation.” This idea that women can either fully participate in society or become mothers, but not both, is deeply antiquated and incredibly disempowering to women. Who among us would ever say this to our own daughters? This idea suggests that women have reached their places in society today not as a result of their determination and hard work, not because they are intelligent and capable, but because they resorted to abortion.
It's a deadly lie that has devastated countless women and families and resulted in the deaths of millions of unborn children.
For 50 years now, Heartbeat has labored alongside pregnancy resource centers, medical clinics, maternity homes and adoption agencies, all fighting to obliterate the false dichotomy of parenthood on the one hand, or participation in society on the other. Indeed, women can be mothers and participate fully in society. We have shared this message with expectant mothers around the nation, indeed around the world, day in and day out for decades.
So fast forward with me back to 2021. The Court has granted review in Dobbs, and now it’s our time to share this message with the Court. Women are capable. Heartbeat, its affiliates, and the vast and sophisticated network of pregnancy help in this country stand ready to assist them. And women do not need abortion.
We knew that stare decisis would be a central issue in this case. Stare decisis means to stand by things decided. It means that generally, the Court should follow its own precedent in deciding cases. But, as the Court has repeatedly stated, stare decisis is not an inexorable command. There are certain factors for determining when to deviate from precedent.
Our brief addressed each of those factors but focused its argument on defeating the notion that women must resort to abortion in order to be successful.
We argued that the proliferation of pregnancy help organizations represents a critical change since Roe and Casey, and that women certainly do not need to rely on abortion any longer, if they ever did. Indeed, when Casey was decided, pregnancy help centers existed, but they were nowhere near as numerous or robust as they are today. For example, when Casey was argued, only three pro-life pregnancy centers were providing medical services. Today, that number is 2,132. In Mississippi, the state at issue in this case, pregnancy centers outnumber abortion clinics 29 to 1. Pregnancy centers serve millions of people each year with hundreds of thousands of free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, millions of articles of clothing and diapers, and untold practical support for mothers and families.
Not only is the idea that women need abortion to participate equally in the social and economic life of the nation disempowering, it is flatly false. Today, educational pursuits are increasingly feasible for mothers. Indeed, more than 20% of all undergraduate students today are parents. Mothers also routinely pursue careers. In 2020, more than 70% of all women in the US with children under the age of 18 participated in the workforce. Not to mention, federal and state laws now prohibit pregnancy discrimination. The idea that women must resort to abortion to participate in the economic life of the nation is not just outdated – it’s illegal. If an employer took that position with a female employee today, that employer could look forward to a swift lawsuit and substantial liability for pregnancy discrimination.
Writing this brief was particularly meaningful for me. You see, when the briefs were due, I happened to be on maternity leave, having just given birth to my fourth baby, a little girl. But writing a brief asking the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and Casey was a career aspiration that I could only have dreamt of, and I was certainly not going to let it pass me by! I drafted large sections of the brief in the wee hours, while balancing my laptop on my lap and holding my newborn baby girl on my shoulder.
Holding her in my arms fueled me through those sleepless drafting nights. I will not soon forget the feeling of her soft breath on my cheek and the sound of her rhythmic breathing in the background of my keyboard clicking away in the soft glow of a dim lamp. She was a little embodiment of what I was fighting for – not just for the babies only a few weeks younger than her who have inadequate legal protection, but also for the countless women from whom Roe has robbed motherhood, women who were told that they had to choose between motherhood and their dreams. Indeed, 29 years after the Planned Parenthood attorney took to the podium to tell the Court that women cannot have both careers and babies, I was doing that very thing! And I’m not the only one.
I had the privilege of sharing with the Court the stories of three women who learned that they were unexpectedly pregnant and feared that their pregnancies signaled the end of their educational goals, their careers, or their other aspirations. They each visited pregnancy centers, who supported them with practical assistance, financial aid, and emotional support as they continued their education, began careers, and fulfilled their personal dreams with their children by their side.
You undoubtedly know women like them.
It was a highlight of my career to hold my newborn baby girl as I wrote the words “Heartbeat urges the Court to overturn Roe and Casey.” And I’m prayerful that the Court will do just that.