Each year, the signatories to the PBI Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® and Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® initiatives provide important pro bono services to underserved, disadvantaged, and other individuals or groups unable to secure the legal assistance needed to address critical problems. This Showcase spotlights some of the amazing work signatories have done to serve those in need.
We spoke with Karen O’Malley, Co-Chair of Goulston & Storrs’ Pro Bono Committee about the Abortion Legal Hotline.
Can you tell us about this new project and why is so important?
Shortly after Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022, Reproductive Equity Now and the ACLU of Massachusetts, as part of the Beyond Roe Coalition, helped to draft and pass An Act Expanding Protections for Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Care. This law goes as far as we believe is constitutionally permissible to protect abortion providers and patients from the looming threat of criminal prosecution and lawsuits from extraterritorial jurisdiction. While this law provided some of the best protections in the nation, this is a new area of the law with complex risk-benefit analysis that required the legal community to act quickly to protect providers.
Immediately after the Dobbs decision, Reproductive Equity Now began receiving legal questions from three constituencies: patients, providers, and helpers. This project, the Massachusetts Abortion Legal Hotline, is a direct result of the expressed need. It launched in January 2023, with the support of several public and private partners, including the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, Foley Hoag*, Ropes & Gray*, Goodwin Procter*, Mintz Levin*, and the Women’s Bar Foundation.
To date, we have trained 150 pro bono lawyers to provide legal consultation, and have received more than 80 calls from providers, patients, and helpers. Many calls have been from individuals representing large groups of providers looking to understand the risks and obtain protection if and when offering telehealth to patients in states with abortion bans. In addition, the Hotline has received several referrals from the National Abortion Defense Network Hotline for issues specific to Massachusetts law.
Actual questions the Hotline has received include:
- What are the implications to my medical license if I treat a patient from a state that has banned abortion, including via telehealth?
- Can I provide abortion care via telemedicine to a patient who is not located in-state?
- How do I mitigate the risk to my clinic if a banned state passes a law criminalizing care provided to Texas citizens who travel to Massachusetts for care?
- What is the risk of funding a patient traveling to Massachusetts for care?
- I am a resident of another state who attends college in-state: what risk do I face accessing care?
- Given the decision by a Texas judge to ban mifepristone, can I still prescribe the drug?
Why has the creation of the legal hotline and the formation of the multi-law firm coalition been rewarding for the partnered organization, Reproductive Equity Now? Why has it been rewarding for health care professionals and patients?
With abortion access and reproductive freedom under attack nationwide, Massachusetts has a responsibility to expand access to care and provide patients and providers with the resources they need to obtain and offer compassionate reproductive health care. To see this coalition of legal experts, advocacy organizations, and state leaders, working in consultation with health care professionals who are on the front lines with patients, come together to create such an invaluable resource for patients is yet another reminder that when we work together, we win. The Hotline has already helped more than 80 patients, providers, and helpers access the legal advice they need, without cost barriers. In a post-Roeworld, as the abortion landscape has become more confusing and chaotic than ever, pro bono legal assistance is critical to give patients and providers the confidence to access and offer life-saving, life-affirming health care.
What difference has the referral legal hotline made?
The Massachusetts Abortion Legal Hotline can aid clinicians, who offer care at great personal risk, to navigate this increasingly complex and ever-changing legal environment by providing them with complex risk and legal analysis. The Hotline is an immediate way to address concerns for providers, patients and helpers and ensure that abortion care remains accessible in the Commonwealth. The Massachusetts Abortion Legal Hotline aims to clarify their legal risks and give patients and providers the ability to make informed decisions about their risk tolerance when accessing or providing care. In human terms, the Hotline has allowed providers to form relationships with attorneys who can take concrete steps to protect them from hostile, anti-choice attacks on their ability to provide abortion care.
What has been the role of Goulston & Storrs in this project?
Goulston & Storrs is outside general counsel to Reproductive Equity Now. In this role, we counsel Reproductive Equity Now in its day-to-day legal needs, including advising on lease and contract matters, providing ongoing employment counseling and advising on a variety of workplace and operational matters so that Reproductive Equity Now can focus on its mission. We support the organization’s ongoing, operating and strategic needs, from tax and corporate structuring and advice, including our work in representing Reproductive Equity Now’s transition from being part of a national affiliated organization to operating as an independent organization, and Reproductive Equity Now’s subsequent expansion into Connecticut and New Hampshire.
With respect to our role in supporting the effort to pass An Act Expanding Protections for Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Care and to launch the Massachusetts Abortion Legal Hotline, we provided research and writing support and counsel on a variety of legal and strategic issues and assisted in building the coalition needed to undertake such a cutting-edge effort. We cannot overstate how critically important all of the public and private coalition partners have been to launching and supporting the Massachusetts Abortion Legal Hotline. While Goulston & Storrs does not have a dedicated health care practice, we represent clients that come through the Massachusetts Abortion Legal Hotline with non-health care specific pro bono assistance. For example, we currently represent a sexual and reproductive health clinic with its real estate and contracting needs, as well as health care providers on privacy concerns and other legal matters.
What would you say the most challenging part of this type of project is?
The outpouring of support from the Massachusetts legal community for the Massachusetts Abortion Legal Hotline has been incredible. Navigating such a complex and ever-changing legal landscape and communicating these changes with so many lawyers has been a major challenge since we launched the Hotline. The partnership between Reproductive Equity Now, as the convener and referral-maker, and the ACLU of Massachusetts, as a legal subject-matter expert, has allowed us to continually update attorneys in private practice who want to offer pro bono services to patients, providers, and helpers.
Is there any advice that you would give to other firms who want to partner with organizations seeking to expand abortion access or alternatively, want to become more focused on a certain pro bono issue as a firm?
Every attorney, regardless of practice area, has skills and legal knowledge that are needed to help support reproductive rights organizations as well as the patients, helpers and health care providers that they serve. Our pro bono work on behalf of Reproductive Equity Now and other reproductive rights clients crosses many of our practice areas, including corporate, tax, real estate, private client, litigation, employment, and public-private partnership. Dozens of our attorneys – ranging from some of our most junior Associates to our most senior Directors – have contributed to our reproductive rights work. The key is to tap into attorneys who are passionate about reproductive rights as a pro bono issue and to identify ways to support clients most in need of pro bono services, by understanding where there is unmet need and partnering with existing organizations or coalitions to use resources efficiently to help meet those needs.