"Stop the Sham": Thousands Rally as Supreme Court Hears Biggest Abortion Case in a Generation

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in the most significant abortion case in a generation. Abortion providers in Texas, led by Whole Woman’s Health, have challenged provisions of a sweeping anti-choice law passed by the Texas state Legislature in 2013 despite a people’s filibuster and an 11-hour stand by Texas state Senator Wendy Davis. The provisions at stake force abortion clinics to meet the standards of hospital-style surgery centers and require providers to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital—a task many can’t achieve in part due to anti-choice sentiment. Similar restrictions have passed in multiple other states. Already, with the law partially in place, about half of the more than 40 abortion clinics in Texas have closed. If the law comes into full effect, the second largest state in the U.S. could be left with just nine or 10 clinics.


Video and full transcript below:

AMY GOODMAN: With the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia less than three weeks ago, the Supreme Court has only eight justices, making it unlikely the case would set a national precedent restricting abortion, and opening the way for a 4-4 tie. Such a tie could leave in place a lower court ruling largely upholding the Texas law, potentially impacting other states in the same appeals court circuit—Mississippi, which has just one abortion clinic, and Louisiana, where a similar admitting privileges law threatens to close all but one clinic in the state.
The stakes were high Wednesday when attorney Stephanie Toti stood before the Supreme Court to represent the Texas abortion providers. It was her first time ever arguing a case at the Supreme Court. After the arguments, she addressed reporters outside.
STEPHANIE TOTI: Texas abortion clinics have a documented history of safety that goes back for decades. There is absolutely no evidence of any substandard provider in Texas. Those clinics are subject to rigorous scrutiny by state officials. They are inspected at least once a year and often more than that. And the evidence in the record shows that those inspections demonstrate that these clinics have been operating safely.
And further, the law gives Texas regulators the tools they would need to shut down a substandard provider. The state Department of Health can come in at any time and issue a clinic closure order. If it really believed that these clinics weren’t safe, it had the authority, under existing law, to shut them down. These laws have nothing to do with safety. These laws are simply about stopping women from accessing their constitutionally protected right to abortion.
AMY GOODMAN: Stephanie Toti, who argued the Supreme Court case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, speaking outside the Supreme Court Wednesday. Well, as the arguments went on inside, a few thousand people packed onto the sidewalk outside the Supreme Court. At the center of the crush was an anti-choice rally, surrounded on three sides by pro-choice demonstrators. Speaking on both sides tried to drown each other out. The supporters of Whole Woman’s Health chanted "stop the sham," a reference to what they say is a false claim the Texas abortion regulations are aimed at protecting women’s health. Many supporters wore bright purple, the official color of Whole Woman’s Health.
Well, Democracy Now! was there at the Supreme Court Wednesday. The journey began early, as Democracy Now!’s Amy Littlefield got ready to board a bus in New York.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: Today, the Supreme Court is hearing the most important abortion rights case in almost 25 years. We’re here in front of the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York City. That’s the organization that’s arguing the case before the Supreme Court today. It’s about 3:45 in the morning. It’s dark. It’s raining. And we’re about to get on a bus with a bunch of activists who are headed down to D.C. to rally in front of the Supreme Court and show their support for abortion rights. Let’s get on the bus.
What’s your name, and what are you doing on this bus at 4:00 in the morning?
DR. MONICA DRAGOMAN: Hi. I’m Monica Dragoman. I am a woman. I am an obstetrician/gynecologist, and I also am an abortion provider. And I’m here because I support women’s ability to self-determine and decide when and if they want to have a family. And it’s a privilege to do the work that I do. It’s a privilege to take care of the women that I interact with. And there’s really no more important place to be today than on this bus.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: So it’s about four hours later. We’re still on the bus headed into D.C., and everyone’s getting ready to rally.
ORGANIZER: Repro rights are under attack. What do we do? Stand up! Fight back! Repro rights are under attack. What do we do?
BUS RIDERS: Stand up! Fight back!
AMY LITTLEFIELD: So we’ve arrived here in Washington, D.C. We’ve gotten off the bus, and we’re heading over to the Supreme Court.
PROTESTERS: Stop the sham! Stop the sham! Stop the sham!
SONYA RENEE TAYLOR: What’s up, y’all? Are you on fire today? My name is Sonya Renee Taylor. I am a performance poet, an activist and an unapologetic woman who has had an abortion. Let me say that again: I am an unapologetic woman who has had an abortion. I was a 20-year-old college sophomore putting myself through school when I got pregnant. I reject the narrative that there must be some externally decided, good enough reason for any of us to access safe, legal, professional, compassionate abortion care and services. I do not owe the Texas Legislature, anti-choice fearmongers or even the Supreme Court of the United States any explanation as to why I had an abortion.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: Next up is Andrea Ferrigno, corporate vice president at Whole Woman’s Health, the lead plaintiff in the abortion case.
ANDREA FERRIGNO: I am so thankful. For so long, we’ve felt, as providers, so alone. And to see all of you here come bear witness as we bring our case to the Supreme Court is just unbelievable. Thank you. Thank you. As a Hispanic immigrant from Latin America, I know what it’s like not to have access to safe, legal abortion care, in an environment where women’s voices matter. This is why this work is so important for me on both a professional and personal level. But I have also witnessed firsthand how laws like HB 2 can force clinics to shut down. I think about the woman on the phone that begged me to see her after our clinic was shut down by this law, and I still remember the desperation in her voice when she said, "Please, please, just see me. I won’t tell anyone. Why can’t you just see me? Please," and not having a logical answer to her because there’s no logic behind this.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: Could you say your full name and where you’re from?
ROSE BARNES-COVENANT: My name is Rose Barnes-Covenant, and I’m from Washington, D.C. Our generation has spent a lot of time thinking that progress has been made, and it’s being taken from us. And if we don’t stand up now, we’re not going to have a choice. There are a lot of women here that did this work in the '70s, and I think my generation thinks this is old news. And now we're slowly seeing an erosion of our rights, where it’s harder to fight if they take it piece by piece. And it’s finally gotten to a point where people have to stand up. And if not, we’ll just—we’ll go back to the ’60s.
PROTESTERS: Stop the sham! Stop the sham! Stop the sham!
UNIDENTIFIED: Springfield, Virginia.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: And why are you here today?
UNIDENTIFIED: I’m here because in the '70s and the ’80s, when I had to worry about my reproductive health, I was able to do so. I don't think it’s right for people who have a lot of money to be able to fly to a different state to get abortion access. It’s all about access. I had access. These girl should have access. I can’t believe we’re still fighting this.
DR. SARA IMERSHEIN: My name is Dr. Sara Imershein, and I am an abortion provider. I performed my first abortion as a routine procedure in 1980 during my internship at New York’s Bellevue Hospital. My professors, my mentors remembered wards filled with injured and infected women and the many women who died before abortion was legal and available. We must not forget their stories or their lives, and we must remember: Women will seek abortion even when it is illegal. Abortion is medical, not political. Abortion is medical, not political!
BRENDA PEARL: My name is Brenda Pearl. I’m an activist, I’m an African American, and I am a woman. And I’m a student from Ohio. And I’m here to share my story. In the summer of 2014, I became pregnant. I was planning to continue my studies that fall. And having a baby at that time in my life would have derailed my plans and goals. I had just enough money for books, with not a cent more. I also had life—I also had a life path in front of me, a path I longed to follow. For that reason, I chose to have an abortion. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made, but in the end it was a decision to determine the fate of my life.
The state of Ohio makes it very difficult for women to access safe, legal abortion. First you have to schedule an appointment to receive state-mandated information. It’s misleading information that is meant to discourage you from having the abortion that is your constitutional right. They also make you have an ultrasound, even after you already probably had an ultrasound. It was painful to feel I was pressured to listen to the heartbeat. Then you have to wait 24 hours to come back, and the procedure itself. Personally, the biggest obstacle was paying for the abortion. Except in extreme cases, you have to pay for it yourself. I am sharing my story with you today to raise my voice about the protection of safe, legal abortions, and also about truth, free will, healing and freedom. Thank you.

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