The Woman Project had a strong showing at the State House for our rally calling for an emergency session. The reality of this issue is that it is bigger than just RI. The following series of questions were shared with Ashley Gray, State Advocacy Adviser and Agata Pelka, State Legislative Council for the Center for Reproductive Rights. They co-shared answering these questions.
Q1. What will be the immediate impact of losing Justice Kennedy on the court?
Justice Kennedy’s vacancy on the Supreme Court means that there is now a likely possibility that the composition of the Court to change drastically. With Kennedy’s retirement, the political balance on the court is likely to shift, and we may see a drastically different Supreme Court over the next few decades as a result of this shift. It’s important to remember that Roe v. Wade has been established law for almost 50 years and been upheld throughout many administrations by many justices, but we have to be clear that the stakes couldn’t be higher right now and reproductive rights, as well as many other civil rights that we care about, are on the line.
Q2. What cases are currently pending across this country that could come before the Supreme Court as it relates to these topics?
There are a few dozen cases in the lower Federal courts right now that are moving through the system at different levels. It’s important to remember that the Supreme Court only decides to take up a very small percentage of cases that it’s asked to hear each year. The chances of a case getting to the Supreme Court are very small and it’s up to the Supreme Court itself to decide what cases it hears by a vote of at least 4 justices.
The cases that are currently in the system with the theoretical possibility that they could get to the Supreme Court and be heard fall into three categories: laws that ban abortion after a certain stage of pregnancy (15-week bans, 20-week bans, etc.), bans on a type of procedure that is the safest and most commonly used to end pregnancy in the second trimester, and those that ban abortion when a patient purportedly seeks it for a specific reason. Whether or not any of these challenges will make it to the Supreme Court remains unknown.
Q3. In Rhode Island there is an effort afoot to support legislation which protects Roe.v.Wade. Are there similar efforts happening in other states? If so, what?
Many reproductive health and rights advocates have already begun shoring up abortion protections at the state and local levels. States like Rhode Island and New York have bills currently in motion that would codify the standard established in Roe v. Wade into state law. Several states also have introduced Whole Woman’s Health Acts which include statutory protections to abortion.
Many state legislatures have already adjourned for the 2018 legislative session and will not return until 2019, giving state advocates and legislators several months to plan and coordinate strategies for protecting abortion access in their state. If you are curious about the legal landscape across the country, visit www.WhatIfRoeFell.org to find out how Rhode Island compares to other states.
Q4. Where have you seen the most successes at this point in passing this type of legislation?
We have seen a tremendous momentum to pass proactive legislation at the state-level to improve access to abortion care and contraception over the last few years. Specifically in terms of enshrining protections to abortion in state law: in 2017, Delaware codified the protections of Roe v. Wade into their state code, and Illinois and Oregon included state protections to abortion care within larger proactive bills. Illinois enacted landmark legislation which reinstated public funding for abortion care in Medicaid and the state public employee insurance. The law also repealed harmful language in Illinois law that expressed the desire to prohibit abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned, ensuring that the legal standards established in that decision remain the law of the land in Illinois regardless of what happens at the federal level. Oregon passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which was groundbreaking and comprehensive legislation codifying the legal right to an abortion in the state and requiring health insurers to cover a full spectrum of reproductive health services – including abortion – without a co-pay. Now, more than ever, we must redouble our efforts to pass state laws to guarantee that a pregnant person who has made the decision to end a pregnancy can access safe, respectful care where they live.
Q5. Based on your national perspective and knowledge of other states, what kind of advice do you have for Rhode Islanders to pass this legislation?
The successes of the above campaigns resulted from many years of coalition building by local groups that engaged and sustained grassroots support for the bills in their states. Given the news of Kennedy’s retirement, state advocates should seize the opportunity to spotlight the importance of state protections for abortion care. It’s important to lift up stories of people who have accessed abortion care and the voices of folks in communities who will be most impacted if the federal standard is put in jeopardy. Rhode Island is in the unique situation of still having an active bill to rally around right now, it’s an opportunity to maintain pressure on legislators and to let them know that if they do not pass this bill this year, you will continue to push for it next year.
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Ashley Gray, State Advocacy Adviser
Ashley joined the Center in 2016 and works closely with the state legislative team and communications team to identify online opportunities for action and support state campaigns. She also plays a lead organizing role in the Center’s State Leadership Summit and engages state partners in the Act for Women campaign. Ashley also co-founded a volunteer clinic escort program in Northern New Jersey that was instrumental in getting a local buffer zone passed to minimize the harassment of clinic patients and staff.
1. What aspect of an issue keeps you up at night?
What keeps me up at night are the unintended consequences of restricting abortion access should our national landscape worsen: pregnant people being prosecuted for experiencing miscarriage, etc.
2. What do you do for selfcare?
Usually, I need a place to put my anxiety, which means expending it on physical exertion, cooking, or knitting. But lately, I’ve also noticed my mind wandering and thinking of worst-case scenarios, so I’ve also started unplugging before bed and reading some fiction as a form of escape for my brain and it’s been helping a lot!
Agata Pelka, State Legislative Counsel
Agata joined the Center for Reproductive Rights in 2017, where she works to advance proactive policy strategies in the states. Agata came to the Center from the National Health Law Program, where she was a staff attorney focusing on reproductive health care coverage in Medicaid, other public programs, and private insurance. Agata received her JD from the University of North Carolina School of Law and her B.S. in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School.
1. What aspect of an issue keeps you up at night?
I worry that we will lose the momentum we have had to improve access to abortion, contraception, and maternal health in terms of expanding insurance coverage and that there will be a narrative that we should just be grateful to have legal abortion. We have been working so hard to ensure that all people can actually access services in practice, I hope we don’t lose sight of that goal.
2. What do you do for selfcare?
A few of my friends inspired me to start running this past year. I participated in my first 8k race in April and am currently training for a half marathon in January. I’ve really enjoyed the camaraderie of the running community and the ability to obsess about something that is a bit more under my control – plus the endorphins are great!!