Thanks to the recent leak of a draft opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court, the news has been filled with stories about the future of women’s reproductive freedom, guaranteed to American women since the 1973 Supreme Court opinion in Roe v. Wade.
As a young lawyer, I fought for reproductive freedom over 50 years ago. My co-counsel and I (working as an attorney with the Chicago Legal Aid Bureau) filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the restrictive 19th-century Illinois abortion law in February 1970.
We argued for and won a TRO (temporary restraining order) allowing a Legal Aid client, a Black rape victim, to have a legal abortion in March 1970. And after oral argument in September 1970, we ultimately won a hard-fought 2-to-1 decision by a three-judge court in January 1971. You can probably read the court’s decision online. Doe v. Scott, 321 F.Supp. 1385 (N.D.Ill. 1971).
In brief, the court held that the Illinois statute was “an intrusion on constitutionally protected areas…women’s rights to life, to control over their own bodies, and to freedom and privacy in matters related to sex and procreation.”
I later filed an amicus brief in Roe v. Wade, arguing specifically on behalf of poor women.
I’m currently engaged in a writing project that focuses on Doe v. Scott. I plan to answer questions like these: What led me to stand up for women’s rights, including those of poor and minority women? How did my experience as a federal judge’s law clerk enable me to pursue a class action of this kind? And how did our case actually proceed to victory in the conservative federal court in the Northern District of Illinois?
I still have a great deal of work to do to complete this writing project. It will not be a commentary on the current direction of the Supreme Court, which appears headed to sweep away five decades of women’s reproductive freedom. It will instead focus on what happened up until 1973, and it will stop there.
In the meantime, I plan to continue to add a new post to my blog about once a month.