About the authors:
Ellie Schilling is a lawyer who litigates in state and federal court to secure the rights of her clients, including the right to abortion services. She also regularly testifies before the Louisiana Legislature regarding laws that impact reproductive health, rights, and justice. She is the co-founder of Lift Louisiana, a statewide non-profit working to educate, advocate, and litigate the policy changes needed to improve the health and wellbeing of people and families in Louisiana. She is a 2003 summa cum laude graduate of Tulane Law School, where she is an adjunct professor teaching reproductive rights and the law.
S. Mandisa Moore-O’Neal is a Black feminist and founder of The Moore-O’Neal Law Group, a Black feminist law and policy practice. She is a civil rights attorney with a focus on reproductive justice, HIV-decriminalization litigation, education and advocacy; family law litigation, education and advocacy; employment and public accommodations, discrimination litigation and education; and police accountability litigation and advocacy.
As Louisiana lawyers, we have a warning: “As goes the South, so goes the Nation.” We weren’t surprised that the State of Louisiana just lost another abortion case at the U.S. Supreme Court. What is surprising is that the State continued to pursue the case at all. The admitting privileges law at issue in June Medical Services vs. Russo is identical to a Texas law that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016.
Like Texas, the law also would have decimated access to abortion care, but unlike Texas, Louisiana has the second highest percentage of people living in poverty.
But Louisiana politicians aren’t trying to fix that problem and provide people with greater economic security, or really trying to solve any of the real life problems facing the people of our State.
After centuries of gender and racial oppression and the scourge of mass incarceration (an area in which Louisiana wins another prize as having the highest rate in the world), there are many problems to be solved.
These systemic oppressions disproportionately impact Black women, Black Gender Non-Conforming people, and other marginalized communities, who also have the most to lose when abortion access is restricted.
Yet, year after year, the Louisiana Legislature fails to raise the minimum wage, which at $7.25 is one of the lowest in the country, and presumably only that high because federal law mandates it.
The Legislature also refuses to engage in any serious effort to ensure equal pay and close the racialized gender wage gap – which is the highest in the country, with white women making 69 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts, and women of color faring significantly worse, with Black women making only 52 cents and Latinx women only 48 cents. And forget about paid sick leave or paid family leave.
Louisiana politicians wouldn’t even get behind those equitable, commonsense policies during a global pandemic despite paying lip service to caring about Louisiana families as their reason for pushing an anti-abortion agenda.
Instead, what Louisiana politicians are interested in is taking away people’s rights, and wasting exorbitant amounts of taxpayer dollars in their efforts to do so. Take the COVID-19 pandemic and abortion, for example.
Disingenuous Louisiana politicians, of course, jumped on the bandwagon of trying to shut down abortion clinics under the guise of public health. They could not wait to assert that abortion services are “non-essential” health care. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s Office took things further, not only insisting that Louisiana abortion clinics be shut down, but instituting simultaneous warrantless raids at the State’s three remaining abortion clinics, even though he had no jurisdiction to do so.
As COVID-19 infection and death rates were skyrocketing across Louisiana and thousands more faced unemployment and the inability to pay for basic necessities, elected officials decided to use taxpayer dollars to try to curtail medical services and restrict people’s rights.
It forced Lift Louisiana and the Center for Reproductive Rights to sue the State, yet again, to ensure that access to time-sensitive, essential health care was not dismantled during a global pandemic.
Undeterred, Landry’s office was also running around the country spending Louisiana taxpayer money to try to shut down abortion access in other states – with multiple attorneys from that office enrolling in cases, filing amicus briefs, and participating in telephonic hearings in front of at least five other courts (and that was before we stopped counting).
It’s Landry who insisted on pushing the June Medical Services admitting privileges case all the way to the Supreme Court. And it wasn’t the only cruel and costly case that the state attorney general insisted on litigating all the way to the Supreme Court this term.
Last year, Louisiana voters approved a measure to require unanimous jury verdicts in criminal trials, removing, finally, a stain borne out of explicitly racist politics that allowed people to be sent to jail after a non-unanimous jury vote of 10-2, which was designed to dilute meaningful participation by Black jurors.
But Landry’s office decided they still wanted to be able to convict people without the hassle of a unanimous jury verdict, so they took the position that they should still be able to do so in federal court – even though state and federal courts in 48 states had long ago abandoned the practice – forcing the Promise of Justice Initiative to file Ramos v. Louisiana. The State lost that case at the Supreme Court, too, and the constitutional right to a unanimous jury verdict is now the law of the land, as it always should have been.
All told, Louisiana has wasted millions of dollars on litigation that it lost, and in good conscience, should never have pursued in the first place.
And they are not done yet. The State is currently embroiled in four other lengthy and costly lawsuits, on abortion litigation alone. Incredibly, much of the money the State has spent on those cases is because, rather than relying on government lawyers whose salaries taxpayers are already paying, the State insisted on also hiring outside legal counsel, including the law firm of a recently-appointed judge to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Can Louisiana afford any of this? No.
Our state and local governments are just as broke as its citizens.
So how about a costly ballot initiative? And one aimed not at ensuring constitutional rights, but at taking them away?
State Sen. Katrina Jackson, the same politician who authored the admitting privileges law when she was a state representative, has authored a proposed constitutional amendment to enshrine in the Louisiana constitution that there is no right to abortion under any circumstances.
There are many things we could be trying to fix in our State, but instead, a constitutional amendment banning all abortion is what Louisiana voters will face when they head to the polls in November.
If we, as lawyers who have fought against these and other dangerous efforts, sound frustrated, we are.
The hardworking people of our State deserve better.
Our State, and our country, is more than capable of rising to the occasion and truly being great if politicians would listen to this simple request: stop wasting our money; stop trying to take away our rights; and start investing in people’s lives.