Sanctuary Files Brief to SCOTUS Supporting the Right to Emergency Abortion Care

Sanctuary filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the consolidated cases Idaho v. United States and Moyle v. United States in support of reproductive care access.

Yesterday, Sanctuary filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the consolidated cases Idaho v. United States and Moyle v. United States in support of reproductive care access. We argued that by requiring pregnant patients to incur serious but preventable harms or to suffer until their medical conditions become life-threatening, Idaho’s abortion ban amounts to gender-based violence. 

Joined by a coalition of 16 organizations advocating on behalf of survivors, our brief urges the Court to consider the compounding effect of the harms caused by abortion bans that conflict with EMTALA* for pregnant patients who arrive at the emergency department with emergency medical conditions resulting from physical abuse.

Homicide is the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the United States. The Court should not permit states to further endanger pregnant women’s lives and empower their abusers by denying stabilizing abortion care in the narrow but critical circumstances in which EMTALA requires it to prevent the patient’s death or serious harm to her health.

We want to thank the National Women’s Law Center for coordinating this broader effort in support of reproductive justice and our partners at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP for authoring this brief on our behalf. We also want to recognize the remarkable leadership of Sanctuary’s Reproductive Rights Advocacy Sub-Committee, co-chaired by Family Law Project and Policy Director Luba Reife and Senior Staff Attorney Anne Glatz.

Click here to read the full amicus brief. 

*The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) requires hospitals with emergency departments to provide a medical screening examination to any individual who comes to the emergency department and requests such an examination, and prohibits hospitals with emergency departments from refusing to examine or treat individuals with an emergency medical condition.

Cleary Gottlieb: Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Spotlight

Sanctuary teamed up with Cleary Gottlieb to submit an amicus brief highlighting how Florida’s proposed 15-week abortion ban would disproportionately endanger survivors of intimate partner violence.

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.”

Anne Glatz
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.

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Access to Abortion — A Lifeline for Survivors of Domestic Violence

Intimate partner violence and pregnancy are highly correlated — which is why abortion bans are so devastating for survivors of abuse.

In light of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, it is vital to bring awareness to the correlation between intimate partner violence (IPV) and pregnancy — and highlight the devastating consequences of restricting access to safe and legal abortion for survivors.

In the US, homicide is the leading cause of death among pregnant women, and 1 in 6 pregnant women are abused by a partner. Pregnant survivors of abuse are at a 37% higher risk of developing obstetric complications

Too often, violence and pregnancy go hand in hand — unplanned pregnancies increase the risk for violence, and violence increases the risk for unplanned pregnancies. One study found that a woman’s odds of experiencing IPV rose by 10% with each pregnancy

It is important to note that pregnancy is not always consensual. 10.3 million women have had a partner who tried to get them pregnant against their will or refused to wear a condom, and 2.1 million have become pregnant due to rape by an intimate partner. 

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

This is called reproductive coercion — an abuser’s attempt to control their partner’s reproductive health. The abuser may engage in reproductive coercion as a means to maintain control and power in the relationship, and it can manifest in behaviors such as:

  • Interfering with or manipulating birth control methods, such as withholding a partner’s birth control pills or intentionally breaking/removing condoms during sex
  • Forcing a partner to get pregnant, carry a pregnancy to term, or terminate a pregnancy against their will
  • Coercing a partner to have unprotected sex

Lack of reproductive autonomy further tethers victims to their abusers, making it harder than it already is to leave an abusive relationship — for instance, a victim may stay with their abuser if they are the only means of financial support for the child. 

Access to safe and legal abortion is imperative in putting an end to reproductive coercion and IPV. Between 6% to 22% of women terminate their pregnancies because they are in an abusive relationship, and 34% of survivors report that their abusive partners limited their childbearing decision.

The overturning of Roe v. Wade will make obtaining abortion care difficult for those whose abusive partners control their decision-making, finances, and daily lives. It will disproportionately affect women of color, who also experience higher rates of IPV, and maternal and infant mortality, and are more likely to die from unsafe, illegal abortions. 

Reproductive autonomy is a lifeline — a chance to break free from a cycle of violence. A society that supports the right to choose means a society with less violence and more empathy and resources for survivors.

Interview with Janice Mac Avoy, 2018 Recipient of the Zero Tolerance Award

THE HISTORY In 1973, in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade, the United States’


In 1973, in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade, the United States’ Supreme Court ruled in favor of a woman’s right to have an abortion.

Forty-five years later, the national debate sparked by the Supreme Court’s decision wages on. As traditionally conservative states continue to pass legislation aimed at closing abortion clinics, more and more women have broken the silence around what has historically been deemed a “taboo” topic. These women, many of whom have had abortions themselves, believe that it has been their ability to control their own bodies through access to safe and legal abortion that has allowed them to become the successful and independent women they are today.

Sanctuary is proud to honor one of these women, Janice Mac Avoy, as the 2018 recipient of the Zero Tolerance Award for her work in the legal battle to uphold abortion rights for all women.


Janice Mac Avoy is a New York-based partner at the law firm of Fried Frank, where she is a member of the Real Estate Department and the Litigation Department, head of the Real Estate Litigation Practice Group, and co-chair of the Firm’s Pro Bono Committee. She is a member of the American Law Institute and the Association of Real Estate Women, a former member of the Board of directors of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and current board member of Sanctuary for Families and the Center for Reproductive Rights, as well as a member and voting representative of the CRE Finance Council.

Janice Mac Avoy is a partner at the Fried Frank law firm in New York.

Janice graduated summa cum laude from Washington University and received her JD from Columbia Law School, where she was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and associate editor of the Columbia Law Review.

Two years ago, Janice was the lead signer on an amicus (friend of the court) brief to the United States Supreme Court in the Whole Women’s Health case – an important Supreme Court case addressing Texas’ restrictive abortion laws, which would have closed 75% of the abortion clinics in the state.  Janice wrote an article for the Washington Post discussing her role in the amicus brief and how the right to abortion changed her life and why it needs to be upheld. Recently, Sanctuary got the chance to interview Janice and find out more about her personal and legal connection to the ongoing battle over women’s right to abortion:


How did you first get involved with Sanctuary for Families?

I first got involved with Sanctuary about thirty-one years ago, when I was a student at Columbia Law School. During my time there, I participated in a family law clinic to get orders of protection for women who had been subjected to domestic assault. Ultimately, about fifteen years later, I was very involved in Fried Frank’s efforts to fund the beginning of  the Courtroom Advocates Project at Sanctuary, which formalized the practice of students assisting victims of domestic violence obtain orders of protection. I started doing pro-bono work with Sanctuary right out of law school, and I have continued working with Sanctuary ever since.

What is/are you connection(s) to domestic violence?

I have always tried to be an advocate for victims of domestic violence since law school, and I continue to work with Sanctuary and other service providers to help victims of domestic violence escape their abusers.  I have worked on almost 500 divorces, mostly for victims of domestic violence.  I also believe that in order for women to fulfill their potential, they need to control their bodies, not only by being free of physical abuse or exploitation, but also by choosing when or if to have children.  In addition to the friend of the court brief in Whole Women’s Health, which was signed by me and over 100 female attorneys who had exercised their constitutional right to have an abortion, I have also acted as counsel to other organizations that have submitted friend of the court briefs to the United States Supreme Court and other courts in support of protecting abortion rights, including the National Abortion Federation, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and other medical professionals who support women’s access to safe, legal abortion.

The issue of a woman’s right to have an abortion is not an abstract one; it is a very real issue for women from all walks of life. The women lawyer’s brief got a lot of press, and I realized I had to keep speaking out on the issue, which then led to the Washington Post article, the CNN article, and a number of public speaking engagements discussing how critical it is to talk about abortion.  The importance of access to reproductive rights is vital to a woman’s ability to control her destiny. Much of my work and the work done at organizations like Sanctuary is all about empowering women to be free of the patriarchal systems that currently dominate our political and social landscapes.


Pro-choice activists hold signs as marchers of the annual March for Life arrive in front of the U.S. Supreme Court January 22, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The theme for this year’s Zero Tolerance benefit is “Breaking the Silence.” What made you want to break the silence around what has for so long been deemed the “taboo” topic of abortion?

When the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights contacted me about being the lead signer on the Whole Women’s Health brief, I was very nervous about public reaction, but I knew I was going to do it anyway. I decided I wanted to talk to my family before agreeing to do it.

We all sat around the dinner table – me, my husband, my daughter, who was 16 at the time, and my son, who was 13. I sat them down and told them: “This is a big deal. My name is going to be out there, so it could affect you too.” My husband responded by saying that it was my decision and he supported whatever I wanted to do, and my daughter said that she would be disappointed in me if I didn’t do it. Everyone was incredibly supportive of my decision to speak out about my abortion. I even spoke with my mother, who absolutely supported my wish to speak out. “I wish I had the choices that you had,” she told me.

The firm’s support was also a big help. After the brief and before the decision, so many at Fried Frank were supportive in not only publicizing the firm’s role in the Supreme Court brief, but also furthering our efforts within the context of gender rights.

What do you hope other women can gain from your story, and those of other women who have broken the silence surrounding abortion rights?

We need to stop being ashamed. No matter what the issue is. Sanctuary has played an important role in breaking the silence on domestic violence and sex trafficking, and I hope to continue breaking the silence on abortion.  Women shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed because they chose to have an abortion, just like they should not be shamed if they decided to have a child. This issue needs to be talked about. We have to take the shame away, and breaking the silence is a primary way to do that.

For a summary and photos of our 2018 Zero Tolerance Benefit, click here.