Dobbs Decision Galvanizes Reproductive Rights Pro Bono Work

by Hitha Bollu, PBI Intern

In June 2022, the Supreme Court held in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion, overturning longstanding precedent in Roe v. Wade—and mobilizing interest in pro bono opportunities among many lawyers who support reproductive rights. Even before the decision came down, many major law firms anticipated that the right to abortion was in jeopardy, and formed an alliance to work to protect reproductive rights.

As predicted, the overturning of Roe v. Wade allowed many states to enforce laws banning and restricting abortion bans. According to the Brennan Center for Justice and the Center for Reproductive Rights, as of February 1, 2023, litigants have challenged abortion prohibitions and restrictions in three dozen cases across 21 states since Dobbs.  Last July, the Justice Department announced a task force to “monitor and evaluate” state and local legislation which seeks to limit abortion, limit use of FDA-approved medications for abortion, or impose harsh penalties on abortion providers.  through the process of harsh penalties. Additionally, the Biden Administration issued an executive order to protect access to medication abortion and emergency contraception, as well as educate about these options to safeguard reproductive health.

These changes to the reproductive rights legal landscape have created an opportunity for many law firms to engage in reproductive rights pro bono work challenging abortion bans and restrictions.  To list just a few examples:

  • Jenner & Block* teamed with the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Florida, Center for Reproductive Rights, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America to successfully seek an order blocking Florida’s 15-week ban on abortion before it went into effect on July 1;
  • Dechert* partnered with the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America to file a challenge to the total abortion bans in Oklahoma;
  • WilmerHale* partnered with American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Ohio, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, to file a challenge to an abortion ban in Ohio;
  • Arnold & Porter* collaborated with the Center for Reproductive Rights to litigate in support of the Kansas’s Supreme Court’s decision to preserve abortion rights, partnered with the ACLU to preserve the right to medication abortions; and
  • Cooley* partnered with ACLU of West Virginia and Mountain State Justice to file a challenge to the near-total ban on abortion in West Virginia.  These are just some of the many cases in which law firms are engaged in reproductive rights pro bono.

In addition to filing direct legal challenges to abortion bans, there are other ways to get involved in reproductive rights pro bono, like hotline support and research.  For examples, in the wake of Dobbs, the Attorney General of New York, Letitia James, announced a pro bono task force of two dozen law firms and eight pro-choice organizations to create a pro bono reproductive task force, such as a hotline dedicated to offering free abortion information to interested individuals. The hotline is available to individuals in and out of state who seek legal guidance about obtaining an abortion, as well as for doctors and abortion providers. Pro bono attorneys will receive training to staff the hotline. There is also much need for pro bono research. For example, firms like Hogan Lovells* have supported reproductive rights by researching “trigger laws” that banned abortion once Roe v. Wade was overturned.

As one of the biggest pro bono non-profits dedicated to protecting contraceptive freedom, the Center for Reproductive Rights has maintained and ensured 30 years of equitable access to reproductive rights. Their work includes advocacy services to destigmatize access to contraceptives; international reproductive rights campaigns in Africa and Latin Americato educate adolescents about available reproductive services; advocating to support maternal health; and protecting and advancing abortion rights.  The Center for Reproductive Rights works with more than 800 pro bono attorneys in more than 80 countries, and is currently working with pro bono attorneys to overturn abortion bans and restrictions; to champion for telemedicine avenues of abortion; to spread information about reproductive assistance; and to advocate for reproductive rights.

If you are interested in learning more about opportunities to get involved in reproductive right pro bono, you’re in luck! The Center for Reproductive Rights has organized a session at the 2023 Pro Bono Institute Annual Conference, entitled “Post-Roe: Reproductive Rights & Pro Bono.” At this program attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights, alongside pro bono attorneys from Manatt, Phelps & Phillps* and Arnold & Porter, will speak about pro bono efforts to better protect and provide legal representation in support of reproductive rights.

*denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory