Experts Gather for UCLA Law Talk on the Future of Reproductive Rights

With Roe v. Wade gone, law professors and activists discussed potential ways to combat this and further attacks on women’s rights

Immediately following the Supreme Court’s Friday announcement that it had overturned Roe v. Wade in a 6-3 decision, freeing states ban abortion access, the UCLA School of Law gathered a variety of speakers for a virtual panel to discuss both the societal and legal implications of the ruling.

Cary Franklin, a professor of law at UCLA and the faculty director of UCLA’s Center on Reproductive Health, Law, and Policy, said at the panel that Americans have long recognized that the list of rights in the Constitution is not exhaustive.

“We cut out rights that deserved to be in certain categories,” she said.

Such rights include those related to family planning and sexual intimacy, which the court has upheld in the past under the basis of privacy, she explained. The recent decision upends that framework, she added, and leaves the court free to overturn other rulings protecting rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution but safeguarded via privacy.

Prior to the ruling, 13 states already had so-called “trigger laws” on the books that would outlaw abortion in the event Roe was overturned. Now that it has happened, Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles President Sue Dunlap described the imminent effects of such laws. Many Americans with upcoming abortion appointments have found their procedures canceled, she explained—even if those appointments were made prior to the court’s ruling. Yet, both Dunlap and California state senator Sydney Kamlager emphasized that California will continue to allow abortions.

“We have an obligation to create an underground railroad for reproductive freedom,” Kamlager said.

As a member of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, Kamlager said that she and her colleagues support an amendment to the state constitution that would enshrine abortion as a constitutional right. The amendment, which has now been passed by the California State Senate, would serve both Californians and people from outside the state who come to California seeking the procedure. 

“If you are seeking an abortion, you can come to California because we are ready to receive you,” Kamlager said.

Despite the fact that there will be safe haven states, Franklin said public approval of the Supreme Court is extremely low in the wake of the decision. According to a May poll from NBC News, 60 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or some cases, reflecting a different stance than that of the court. Many Americans, Franklin said, are disappointed and frustrated to watch the court act in a partisan manner—with the six conservative justices voting in favor of overturning Roe (although Chief Justice Roberts said he had not wanted to overturn Roe), and the three liberal justices voting to uphold it.

The day before the court’s abortion decision, it announced that it had found unconstitutional a New York law requiring people to demonstrate proof of their need to carry a concealed firearm in public in order to obtain a permit to do so. Speaking to both this decision and the overturn of Roe, panelist and UCLA law professor Jon Michaels noted the contradiction in the Court’s supposed desire to protect life as its justification for overturning Roe.

 “One could make the case that this Court’s abiding interest in life immediately ends at the moment of birth,” Michaels said.

Yet, Franklin said that there still may be other ways in which abortion rights could be protected again. Although the court struck down Roe on the grounds of privacy, abortion could be seen as an issue of gender equality and reinstated using that justification, Franklin argued. Alternatively, she proposed that the ruling could be seen as an infringement on the First Amendment right to religious freedom. Some Jewish Americans have said that, in their belief system, a fetus is not a person and therefore an abortion may actually be required by the religion when the mother’s life is in danger.

Planned Parenthood’s Dunlap emphasized that she will continue to provide access to abortions in her role. A recent report from the UCLA School of Law estimated that as many as 9,400 more people will travel to Los Angeles to receive abortions each year due to the restrictions imposed in other states. Dunlap stressed her focus on the logistics of making sure abortion is accessible.

 “Our doors will remain open,” she said.

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