To Protect Reproductive Freedom, We Need to Protect State Courts and Advocates

To Protect Reproductive Freedom, We Need to Protect State Courts and Advocates - Proteus Fund

“Now the sponsors of this bill, the House bill, in Mississippi, said, ‘We’re doing it because we have new (Supreme Court) justices.’ … Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?”

Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

The fate of reproductive rights hangs in the balance with the United States Supreme Court’s pending decision on Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health. Many are certain that when the decision is released it will not be a question of if, but by how much the court will eradicate our right to abortion, leaving a patchwork of protections in the states where women of color, LGBTQ people, and those in poor and rural areas will suffer the most harm. This is following a year in which, according to Rewire News Service, “states implemented the most-ever abortion restrictions in a single year – over 100.”

While many wait with bated breath to learn what our highest federal court will do; others are rolling up our sleeves to neutralize increasing hostility that threatens hard-fought civil rights advances. The Rights, Faith, and Democracy Collaborative and the Piper Fund are focusing on what can be accomplished through creative solutions at the state level to protect rights and shrink the role of well-funded special interests in our state courts, many of which contributed to the dire situation on the national level by influencing the filling of vacancies on the Supreme Court.

State courts and state constitutions are the new battleground for our rights and democracy, as they possess the ability to provide greater protection of rights than the federal Constitution. Though reproductive justice wins at the state level have been few and far between, there is a great deal of opportunity to advance access and protections. States like New Mexico have moved to decriminalize abortion in their state constitution while others such as Illinois, Nevada, and, most recently, New Jersey, are leading the way to enshrine the right to choose at the state level.

The state supreme courts in Iowa, Kansas, and Alaska—focusing on state constitutions—have all issued rulings that protect abortion rights. In each of those states, the courts have been under attack because of those rulings and others connected to rights. And, in each of those states—as well as other states— advocates have worked tirelessly to prevent their state courts from being politicized like the federal courts have.

Understanding the inherently connected nature of reproductive rights and judicial independence, the Rights, Faith, and Democracy Collaborative and the Piper Fund are working together to support advocates in mounting a coordinated defense while setting the foundation for positive reform to expand and protect rights. In addition to providing much-needed financial support to state-based groups, we will bring together our grantees from different movements to develop cohesive strategies and messaging, organizing strong state-specific responses to the upcoming US Supreme Court ruling.

The fight for our rights and democracy is urgent and requires deep commitment and collaboration. The tenacity and determination of the groups we support, even in the face of relentless attacks, are inspiring and give us hope. As our partners in this vital effort, we are thankful to you for being part of this fight with us.

Additional funding is needed to deepen our impact and scale this critically important work in more states. To learn more about it, please contact us.

Leah Pryor-Lease, Program Director, Rights, Faith, and Democracy Collaborative
Kathy Bonnifield, Senior Program Officer, Judicial Independence, Piper Fund