Sanctuary for Families’ Pro Bono Project has the honor of working with hundreds of extremely dedicated and expert pro bono attorneys per year. As part of our new Pro Bono Spotlight, we’ll be highlighting some of the great work done by Sanctuary pro bono attorneys!
*Please note that this blog contains descriptions of physical and sexual abuse that could be triggering*
Florida’s House Bill 5 (HB 5) is the latest in a string of proposed state laws restricting access to safe abortions and reproductive care. This controversial bill, which proposes a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, is currently before the Florida Supreme Court—the highest state court in Florida— in the case of Planned Parenthood Southwest and Central Florida v. Florida. This law, like any law curtailing reproductive rights, gives abusers another powerful tool by which to control their victims. Sanctuary’s Reproductive Rights Working Group, co-chaired by Sanctuary attorneys Anne Glatz and Luba Reife, recently teamed up with Cleary Gottlieb to submit an amicus brief highlighting the danger this proposed ban would disproportionately pose to survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV). We reached out to authors Jennifer Kennedy Park, Sarah Gutman, Lilianna Rembar, and Caroline Soussloff—all of whom are Floridian or have Floridian family members themselves—to learn what participating in this project meant to them.
Partner Jennifer Kennedy Park explained, “I was raised in Florida and still have family living there so I was horrified at the passage of HB5. … Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, we’ve seen the terrible impact of the reversal of Roe v. Wade. As we feared, states are passing increasingly restrictive and dangerous bans on abortion—with no regard for women’s lives, health or autonomy. I personally, along with thousands of other law firm partners, committed to fighting for reproductive freedom in a call to action in the American Lawyer that, to date, more than 2,650 women partners from nearly 200 law firms have signed on. This brief is part of that commitment.” Associate Sarah Gutman added, “Abortion bans like Florida’s HB5 harm all people, but the devastating consequences will fall heaviest on those who are already the most marginalized. That’s why it’s so important for all of us—including law firms—to work to protect and expand access to abortion. It can literally be a lifesaver.”
While clear logical links exist to suggest that pregnant people in abusive relationships will be disproportionately impacted by such legislation – for example, the fact that many abusers attempt to restrict their partner’s birth control options as a means of imposing control and restricting their bodily autonomy – the statistics nonetheless are truly staggering. Women who have experienced IPV are nearly three times more likely to report that their partner made it difficult to use birth control, increasing the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. Sarah Gutman noted, “I was particularly glad that [the amicus brief] highlights the links between gender-based violence (GBV) and denial of abortion access. Abortion bans and GBV are different sides of the same coin—both are attacks on bodily autonomy. They create barriers to full social, economic, and political equality regardless of gender.” As the amicus brief explains, in addition to facing universal barriers to care, such as financial restrictions, etc., pregnant victims of IPV are frequently subjected to harassment, surveillance, intimidation, or interference by their abusive partners while attempting to access reproductive health services. Research also shows that pregnant people subjected to GBV are more likely to seek abortion or prenatal services later into their pregnancy than others. Given that most people do not know that they are pregnant until six or seven weeks into the pregnancy, a ban at 15 weeks would force a survivor of IPV to consider their options and make all necessary arrangements to overcome these challenges in a very short period of time. Associate Lilianna Rembar adds, “Forcing pregnant Floridians to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, the 15-week ban will especially harm victims of gender-based violence who face physical, psychological, and financial adversities, along with other barriers to obtaining abortions.”
“Forcing pregnant Floridians to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, the 15-week ban will especially harm victims of gender-based violence who face physical, psychological, and financial adversities, along with other barriers to obtaining abortions.”
-Lilianna Rembar, Associate
Due to sexual violence or reproductive coercion, IPV increases the risk of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, which in turn increase the risk and severity of IPV. Resulting pregnancies from these abusive relationships threaten to create lifelong legal ties tethering the victim to their abuser and are often used as tools of control themselves. Additionally, pregnancy places victims of IPV at severely heightened risk of an escalation of physical violence: Femicide is the leading cause of death for pregnant and post-partum women in the United States, which has the highest maternal mortality rate among high-income countries. Pregnant and postpartum women in the United States are more than twice as likely to die by homicide than by any other cause. Associate Caroline Soussloff reflected, “I was galvanized to learn that the leading cause of death in pregnant women in the United States is homicide—I hope that Florida’s judges and politicians will be too. I hope that fact, and the other data and stories included in our brief, will help to root their decision-making in the experiences of the one in four American women who obtain abortions.”
“The pro bono team from Cleary Gottlieb exceeded expectations at every step of the process. Faced with a very short deadline, the Cleary team immediately jumped into action and impressed us with their keen insights and erudite, nuanced grasp of the issues. The end result was a compelling and highly persuasive brief that concisely but thoroughly illustrated the impact of reproductive rights restrictions for survivors and victims of gender-based violence in general, and the impact of HB5 on Floridians subjected to GBV in particular.”
Senior Staff Attorney, Sanctuary for Families
We are incredibly grateful to Cleary Gottlieb for representing Sanctuary for Families in this advocacy. The brief, which was submitted on March 9, was signed by organizations and individuals including Legal Momentum, The National Organization for Women Foundation, The Rapid Benefits Group Fund, Women for Abortion and Reproductive Rights, Margaret A. Baldwin, JD, Professor Cyra Choudhury, Professor Donna K. Coker, Professor Zanita E. Fenton, Doctor Kathryn M. Nowotny, PhD, and Jodi Russell. We are thrilled to work in collaboration with these outstanding individuals and organizations and are committed to conducting continued advocacy from the perspective of GBV service providers as the reproductive rights landscape continues to change in dangerous ways for survivors.
Join the Cleary team in standing with our clients. Your gift supports Sanctuary’s life-saving work with survivors of gender violence.