My Fight for Reproductive Freedom

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.

5 responses to “My Fight for Reproductive Freedom

  1. Judith Wellek

    Thank you for reminding us of the early rationality and clarity of the Doe/Scott issue. What has happened to us in the last 51 years!!

  2. Looking forward to your firsthand knowledge and insights.
    You have been in the trenches for some very important issues.

  3. Excellent idea. Chip

  4. Looking forward to more information on this experience in your ongoing life saga. Such important work. Sad to think that it will be swept away by a politicized Supreme Court. I believe that Alito is wrong. A person’s right to privacy protects women’s right to make health decisions. A fetus has no say in this matter nor does anyone else except the woman who seeks to terminate her pregnancy. That right to privacy is inherent in the constitution. Although Alito is right that abortion is not mentioned as a right in the constitution, it is the right to privacy that is asserted by Roe.

  5. It’s a sorry state of affairs that we have to keep doing this, and I appreciate all your efforts on behalf of all of us who deserve equality after so many years of being treated like second class citizens.

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