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Women Share Abortion Stories With Supreme Court Justices

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Women Share Abortion Stories With Supreme Court Justices


By Michael Doyle, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Claudia Polsky, a Harvard graduate who directs an environmental clinic at the University of California Berkeley School of Law, had an abortion.

So did Amy Oppenheimer, a former California administrative law judge. Decades ago, while studying at Stanford, Dr. Carol McCleary, too, had an abortion.

And now, in an unusually personal move, th

“Carol has no regrets about her decision to have an abortion,” attorney Michael Dell wrote in a new brief, referring to McCleary. “She cannot imagine having her current career in neuropsychology, or marrying her husband and having their children together, had she been forced to have a child as an undergraduate.”

McCleary, now director of neuropsychology at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, joined actress Amy Brenneman and eight other women in revealing their abortions as part of the brief prepared by Dell and the firm Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel.

Polsky and Oppenheimer were among 113 women who put their names on a like-minded brief prepared by attorney Allan J. Arffa and the firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

“I joined the brief, and recruited a number of other women lawyers to join, because reproductive rights are at a crisis point in the United States,” Polsky explained in an email.

Both amicus briefs seek, among other goals, to put sympathetic human faces on the abortion access question now looming before the high court in the case called Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole.

In particular, the latest briefs may be tuned to the frequency of Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote on the nine-member court populated by five Republican appointees and four Democratic appointees.

“It seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained,” Kennedy wrote in a 2007 decision.

The case, to be heard March 2, tests a 2013 Texas law that requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards as surgical centers, and requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.

Underscoring the stakes, 45 amicus briefs were filed this week with the Supreme Court opposing the state law. That’s a significantly higher-than-average number, and they include filings from the states of California and Washington as well as cities such as San Francisco and 163 members of Congress.

“I would love it if all women in elected office who have had abortions would so state during relevant debates, because I think this would substantially change the legislative conversation,” Polsky said.

Some already have.

During House debate in 2011 over Planned Parenthood funding, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., cited her own health-related abortion. Former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis joined former Seattle City Councilwoman Judy Nicastro in a brief this week recounting their abortions.

Others are newer to the spotlight.

Oppenheimer, now working as an attorney in Berkeley, said Wednesday that she had not been public about her abortion before joining the amicus brief, nor had she discussed it with her two adopted children.

“I am amazed that as a society we have come to a place where people feel a need to be more secretive about having had an abortion than about sexual orientation,” Oppenheimer said in an email. “I don’t think it benefits our society for people to feel a need to be secretive about either.”

Supporters of the Texas law will get their turn, as well, when their amicus briefs are due in several weeks. These will include personal accounts from women who have come to regret their past abortion decisions.

“Our goal is to now collect a hail storm of declarations (to) show the court the size of the problem caused by abortion and how it hurts women,” the conservative Justice Foundation says on its Operation Outcry website.

Any of the personal stories, whatever their intended moral, are probably unlikely to change the minds of the four justices most fervently opposed to abortion or the four considered most sympathetic to a woman’s right to choose.

The 79-year-old Kennedy, though, has had a foot in both camps, and many advocates are courting him in a case that revolves, personal experiences aside, around whether Texas has imposed an “undue burden” on women’s access to abortion.

More than 40 Texas clinics were providing abortions in 2012, prior to the law. The number of clinics subsequently dropped by nearly half and, according to Whole Woman’s Health, the law if given full effect “would eliminate more than three-quarters of Texas’s abortion facilities and limit the capacity of the remaining few.”

(c)2016 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Alisa Ryan via Flickr



  1. Paragryne January 9, 2016

    If you think Greg Abbott is mad now, wait until he loses this and immigration before SCOTUS.

  2. charleo1 January 10, 2016

    Hillary Clinton, who is basing much of her campaign this time around on women’s issues, women’s Rights, a woman’s equality in the workplace, and protecting women’s access to healthcare, and so on, has said, “We should work to keep abortions safe, legal, and rare. Not a pro-abortion stance, by the way. In fact the truth is, there are no pro-abortion advocacy groups. Planned Parenthood is not a pro-abortion organization, Doctors who preform the procedure are not pro-abortion. The Supreme Court that reached the landmark decision, Roe V. Wade, was not pro-abortion. It is ironic that those that most often insist that government be kept at a full arm’s length from their personal lives, their businesses, firearms, and certainly their religious faiths. Would advocate the Federal Government’s full engagement, with it’s power, and ham fisted regulatory regimens, in what would in all other circumstances be considered a very private, and personal matter.

    1. Independent1 January 10, 2016

      Yes, many of us who are against the current right-wing efforts to close down abortion clinics, are not pro-abortion – we are pro-life. What right-wingers fail to understand is that closing abortion clinics WILL NOT prevent abortions – in fact, in many instances it will increase them. And not only increase abortions, but most likely also the number of women dying in failed abortion attempts. Closing abortion clinics only forces women who are determined to abort a fetus to either seek an abortion in a location which permits them (if they can afford to travel) or to seek one on the black market where they stand a high chance of dying in a failed abortion. And on top of that, closing Planned Parenthood clinics which counsels thousands of women each year of going through with an abortion, will also work to increase abortions.

      What right-wingers are doing today, in their efforts to ban abortions, is accomplishing the exact opposite of what they supposedly are attempting to do. They are pro-fetus, not pro-life.

      1. charleo1 January 11, 2016

        What you say is all provably true, every bit of it. And what’s more, these Right Wing politicians absolutely know it, and have no intention of doing anything that would serve to take the abortion issue off the table. As it turns out, demagogic wedge issues, like supporting formally lead Christian prayer in Public Schools, or at Friday night HS. football games. Concepts that despite the separation clause, that we are a Christian Nation. That it’s alright in a free America for the State to discriminate against other faiths. The banning of Gay marriage, and of course, the criminalization of abortion, have all played an enormous role in the Right’s turning out the Conservative Christian vote, especially State, and local ones, over the past 30/35 years. You know, the old God, Gays, and guns formula, that has been winning votes, even as they have mask their economic policies that have been sinking the economy, their foreign policies that have set the Mid-East on fire, and their obvious slavish devotion to multi-national corporate lobbies that are bankrupting the country, and clearly spell the end of the American Dream for the entire 99% of us, Evangelicals included. Still, the Christian voter, “advised, and encouraged (fed the juice,) by his Pastor, and a relentless Right Wing Propaganda regimen every Sunday, has been unmoved. Not by his own best economic interests. (The World is not his home after all.) And not even by the wholly un- Christian way the poor, homeless, and desperate immigrant, as Christ described them, “the least among us,” are being demonized, marginalized, and singled out for ridicule, and worse. As if the 19 terrorists on 9/11 weren’t enough, it’s a hard lesson of what happens to religion when it’s allowed to be highjacked, and used by powerful political interests. Pretty soon, much like the sinner it crawls in bed with, it no longer has core principals, only political agendas. And political agendas have no morals, and no conscience. Only a single goal of acquiring wealth, and advancing power. In the case of a radicalized, and emboldened Conservative Right, for their ultra rich masters at all costs. But things are not all well within a restless, and angry frustrated Christian Right. And this dynamic, which is actually for another time, is now shaking the establishment wing of the Republican’s political organization to it’s very core.

  3. Otto Greif January 10, 2016

    Judges are supposed to rule based on the law and Constitution, not anecdotes.


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