The US Supreme Court has announced that it will hear the landmark abortion rights case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization beginning December 1, 2021, with a decision expected by June 2022. In response to the case, which could upend legal precedent that established that abortion is allowable until fetal viability at about 24 weeks, dozens of groups have filed amicus briefs for the nation’s high court to consider.
What is an amicus brief? An amicus brief is a legal term for written testimony provided by a ‘friend of the court,’ called an amicus curiae. These ‘friends’ can offer evidence or insight that will be important to consider in a legal case. Amicus briefs can be submitted by concerned individuals, scholars, states, medical professional associations, religious organizations, non-profits, and other groups. Briefs can be submitted in support of either the petitioners (in this case Thomas Dobbs, the State Health Officer of the Mississippi Department of Health) or in support of the respondents (in this case Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the last remaining reproductive health clinic that provides abortions in the state of Mississippi).
CORE Scholars and over one hundred other social science experts submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of the respondents. The social scientists’ brief includes signers who have collectively spent decades conducting and publishing peer-reviewed research about the safety, incidence, social, psychological, and health impacts of unintended pregnancy and abortion in the United States. Their research has been published in hundreds of scientific articles which have appeared in leading medical and social science journals. Having extensively studied the effects of state restrictions on people seeking abortions, the researchers write that overturning the legal precedent that protects the Constitutional right to abortion will have harmful and significant consequences for individuals and families.
As the authors of significant studies on unwanted pregnancy and abortion in Mississippi and other restrictive settings, these scholars are deeply familiar with the consequences for families and individuals if abortion is no longer available. They have researched the impact of abortion restrictions and bans on healthcare delivery and find that many restrictions have far-reaching consequences. One highly-cited publication that was included in the brief was the CORE research article “Undue Burden Beyond Texas: An Analysis of Abortion Clinic Closures, Births, and Abortions in Wisconsin” by Dr. Joanna Venator and Dr. Jason Fletcher that found that closure of abortion clinics led to increased drives of over 100 miles to access abortion in some Wisconsin counties, in turn leading to lower abortion rates and higher birth rates. This limited access could constitute an undue burden, and violate the precedents set by Roe v. Wade (1973) and Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1992). The social science experts state that banning abortions after 15 weeks, as proposed by Dobbs and the state of Mississippi, will force people to travel out-of-state, increase costs, and prevent some from accessing abortion at all.
CORE faculty who signed the letter include Dr. Jenny A. Higgins, Dr. Nicholas Schmuhl, Dr. Jane Seymour, Dr. Daniela Mansbach, and Dr. Jason Fletcher.
The authors note that research has shown that pre-viability abortion bans harm, rather than improve, people’s health. In addition, social science research demonstrates that eliminating access to abortion has long-term negative socioeconomic consequences for women. Women who are denied an abortion are more likely to live below the poverty level and be unemployed years after being denied the abortion than people who receive their wanted abortion.
Read the full brief the social scientists submitted to the Supreme Court here.