LGBT, Racial Justice, and Health Equity Groups Urge Court to Carefully Scrutinize State’s Unfounded Health and Safety Claims

(Washington, D.C., January 5, 2016)—The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and a coalition of 13 other LGBT, racial justice, and health equity organizations have filed an amicus brief in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down draconian restrictions on abortion providers enacted by the State of Texas in 2013 which, if upheld, would lead to the closing of most abortion clinics in the state. The brief urges the Court to carefully scrutinize the state’s asserted justification for the law, just as the Court has done with other laws that infringe upon fundamental freedoms. The State of Texas has argued that the law protects the health of women seeking abortion, but the evidence at trial showed just the opposite. In fact, medical organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, and the American Public Health Association have warned that the restrictions imposed by the new law are medically unnecessary and endanger women’s health.

In addition to NCLR, the organizations filing the brief are Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the Equal Justice Society, the National Black Justice Coalition, the Family Equality Council, the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, Equality Federation, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, Immigration Equality, the National Health Law Program, Movement Advancement Project, and Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom. The brief was co-authored by NCLR and Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld, LLP.

U.S. history is replete with attempts to use pseudo-science and unsupported health-related justifications to exclude individuals and groups from the full protection of essential constitutional liberties, including laws barring interracial marriage, excluding women from certain professions, permitting the forced sterilization of those deemed “inferior,” and criminalizing and discriminating against LGBTQ people. NCLR and its fellow amici urge the Court to remember this history and to fulfill its constitutional obligation to look carefully at the State’s asserted justifications for restricting women’s fundamental right to reproductive autonomy.

“Courts have always played a vital role in subjecting repressive laws to careful review to preserve core constitutional values. When courts have abdicated that role and simply deferred to unsubstantiated public health and scientific claims, the principles of equal dignity and freedom have been compromised,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “We cannot allow that to happen to the millions of women in Texas who stand to lose access to safe and legal abortion care.”

Added NCLR Policy Director Julie Gonen: “When fundamental rights are trammeled based on empirically indefensible rationales, people suffer. For decades, governments in this country used pseudo-science to justify oppressive statutes barring interracial and same-sex couples from marriage, restricting women’s freedom, and subjecting LGBTQ people and people with disabilities to forced sterilization and other horrific treatment. In each instance, unsupported public health claims and baseless sociological assertions were invoked to defend the denial of fundamental liberties. We urge the Supreme Court to look with a critical eye on the claims by Texas that these abortion restrictions serve the interest of women’s health and see them for what they are –the most recent use of specious scientific claims to undermine individual freedom.”

Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld attorney Margot Mendelson concluded: “Many of the Supreme Court’s most celebrated rulings have vindicated core constitutional principles by carefully scrutinizing the rationales advanced to justify restrictions on fundamental freedoms. Amici ask the Court to draw upon this judicial tradition by rigorously examining restrictions that will deny the fundamental right to reproductive autonomy to thousands of Texas women.” 

Read the brief here.