Reproductive rights organizations are joining forces to create a pathway to legal protection for abortion care providers and patients. The Abortion Defense Network, a new program announced on Feb. 22, would connect people facing litigation for abortion care with attorneys who can provide advice or representation in civil and criminal proceedings. The program comes as the country’s constantly shifting legal landscape leaves millions uncertain about their reproductive rights.
As of Feb. 28, most abortions are banned in 13 states, five have a gestational limit, and eight have successfully blocked their state’s abortion ban in court. In states like Texas, doctors who provide abortions could face life in prison. The state’s Senate Bill 8 also allows anyone to litigate against someone they consider to have “aided or abetted” an abortion after the gestational limit. But in December 2022, a district judge ruled that people who have no connection to the abortion and have not been impacted by it cannot initiate these lawsuits. While the ruling sets an important precedent, it does not overturn the law. It is in legally dubious situations like these that the Abortion Defense Network intends to provide support.
“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, in a press release. “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.”
According to Northup, the initiative will bring together lawyers nationwide to provide legal advice, criminal and civil defense, and funds to pay for the services. The Lawyering Project will manage the Abortion Defense Network and run in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), If/When/How, National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), and Resources for Abortion Delivery (RAD).
“In this daunting post-Roe reality, we want everyone to have legal support and to know their rights,” Northup said.
Those who seek legal assistance from the Abortion Defense Network will be matched with attorneys and given information on how to defend themselves and protect their rights during what the Abortion Defense Network calls “unjust proceedings meant to harass and intimidate them.”
“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, in a press release. “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.”
Abortion patients seeking legal support will be referred to If/When/How’s Repro Legal Helpline, which has been serving abortion patients for 19 years and has long been the primary tool for abortion patients seeking legal support.
“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, in a press release. “The overturning of Roe v. Wade was not the beginning of abortion criminalization in the U.S., and we are prepared to continue to protect and defend people from the lasting harms of our criminal legal system.”