Today, 1 in 3 women of reproductive age — plus more trans and nonbinary people — are blocked from abortion in their home state. Nearly a year after the Supreme Court's June 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn Roe v. Wade, stripping the federal constitutional right to abortion, 20 states have banned some or all abortions. More states will likely follow.
Why do the courts matter?
Justices and judges hostile to sexual and reproductive freedom, access to health care, racial and gender equality, and LGBTQ+ rights have given the greenlight to move harmful policies through the states. Bills that ban and restrict abortion, birth control, gender-affirming care, and other essential rights have already become law in states around the nation. These dangerous laws fall most heavily on communities already harmed by systemic racism and other forms of institutional oppression, including Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, people with disabilities, and people with low incomes.
We deserve a future where our courts will protect our civil, human, and reproductive rights — no matter where we live.
Court decisions can shape our everyday lives — if and when to have a family, who we can marry, how we can express our identities, who is protected from violence, what kids learn in school, and the quality of the air that we breathe.
That’s why it’s critical that we understand the judicial process.
How do the courts work?
The courts are often the only place to take action to stop harmful laws after they are passed by lawmakers.
The federal court system has three levels: district courts, circuit courts, and the Supreme Court of the United States, the final level of appeal in the federal system. Throughout the country there are 94 district courts, 13 circuit courts, and one Supreme Court.
Cases filed in federal court that could determine access to reproductive health care are more likely to be decided by judges in these lower courts — not the Supreme Court.
The U.S. Constitution gives the president the job of appointing Supreme Court justices, and federal circuit and district court judges. The president’s nominee must then be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
For decades, lawmakers hostile to reproductive rights, equality, justice, and other critical civil and human rights — mostly white men — filled the courts with judges who look and think like them.
Presidents opposing abortion rights have reshaped the Supreme Court by appointing 6 out of 9 justices.
How does all this affect you?
Anti-abortion rights lawmakers and groups led a coordinated strategy to roll back our rights, including reproductive freedom.
It’s time to reclaim the federal courts to secure rights, opportunities, and reproductive freedom for all of us.
Eighty-five percent of Americans want abortion to be legal.
Despite that, anti-abortion groups want to use the court system as a weapon to end sexual and reproductive health care across the nation. This is about power and control over our bodies and our right to determine our own futures.
While the courts have always only protected the rights of some, last year, when the Supreme Court decided to allow states to ban abortion, it became increasingly clear that our federal courts are undermining our freedom and moving us further away from real justice. By overturning Roe v. Wade and eliminating the federal constitutional right to abortion, the Supreme Court has given hostile lawmakers permission to pass and enforce laws that control what we do with our bodies and lives.
Dozens of lower court judges, whose decisions may be reviewed by the same people who overturned Roe, have been emboldened to allow extremist groups to push their dangerous agenda even further. It gives extremist anti-abortion groups the power to control our futures.
Let’s take a look:
Effort to Take an Abortion Pill Off the Market
In Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine et al v. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, anti-abortion activists asked a federal district court judge to take an unprecedented step and force the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to overturn its 22-year approval of mifepristone, one of two medications commonly used in medication abortion.
A federal district court judge ruled in April 2023 to do just that — but later that month, the Supreme Court granted a stay, allowing mifepristone’s FDA approval to remain unchanged and the medicine to remain on the market for now as the case proceeds through the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and likely again on the merits in the Supreme Court.
Regardless of the final outcome, it is clear that we should have never been in a position where judges can decide whether people can get safe, effective FDA-approved medication.
Other Attacks on Sexual and Reproductive Health Care
It’s clear opponents of reproductive rights are not satisfied with overturning Roe or even attacking access to medication abortion nationwide. They want to take away birth control from people with low incomes and young people, limit access to abortion and counseling for veterans, and restrict access to essential sexual and reproductive health care wherever they can.
But despite these attacks, there’s been progress to rebalance the courts…
JULIE RIKELMAN CONFIRMED TO U.S. COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT
Julie Rikelman was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Rikelman is a skilled litigator and long-time advocate for abortion rights — including arguing multiple abortion rights cases at the Supreme Court. She successfully led efforts to preserve access to abortion, including medication abortion; overturn an invasive ultrasound law; defend the rights of young people to access abortion in Florida and Alaska; and more.
Our federal courts should reflect the rich diversity of our nation and increase public confidence that our courts will provide justice for all.
Let’s take a look at some confirmations over the last two years (2022-2023):
Of these 129 confirmed judicial nominees:
- 85 are women
- 85 are people of color
- 44 are Black
- 30 are Black women
- 27 are Hispanic
Of the 34 Circuit Court judges:
- 25 are people of color
- 19 are women of color
- 13 are Black women
INCREASED REPRESENTATION OF BLACK WOMEN
In the last two years, more Black women have been confirmed to Circuit Court judgeships than were confirmed in the rest of U.S. history.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first Black woman to be confirmed to the Supreme Court in April 2022. Justice Jackson has a deep commitment to public service and pursuing equal justice under the law, including safeguarding individual rights and liberties.
It’s time to make the courts work for the people.
The lived experiences of people in the United States are as varied as our backgrounds, identities, and histories. We deserve a future where we can make decisions about our bodies and our lives, free from interference from politicians and judges.
There are still dozens of vacancies in the federal courts.
At this moment, our elected lawmakers who care about reproductive freedom have an urgent opportunity to fill court vacancies with diverse champions of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The courts have been used as a vehicle to advance a dangerous agenda against abortion rights — federal court reform is essential for the fight for reproductive freedom.
A fair, balanced, and equitable judiciary is essential to protect and advance justice and equality. As we continue to face unrelenting attacks on our basic freedoms, our federal courts must be one backstop to protecting our rights. Reforms are integral to building the public’s trust that the courts can and will function to uphold hard-won freedoms and advance justice for future generations.
Here’s what we need these leaders to do now:
Reclaim the federal courts with judges who will protect reproductive rights, including abortion.
Confirm federal judicial nominees who reflect the diversity and values of our nation.
Impose ethics and transparency requirements* for Supreme Court Justices.
*While all other federal judges are required to follow a code of ethics, Supreme Court justices are not. We must improve disclosure requirements and ethical standards for justices.
Expand the federal district courts to keep up with the growing U.S. population and caseloads.
Expand the number of Supreme Court Justices and impose term limits.
Whether you're a public official or a private citizen, you can make a change.
Join the fight to reclaim our courts.
We know that the many challenges we face can feel intimidating. But also know that you’ve got a whole movement behind you — one that’s 18 million people strong — with Planned Parenthood.
As we work to rebuild our federal courts, we must spread awareness about why the courts matter and how they should protect us from laws that take away our ability to make decisions about our bodies and lives. Join one of our National Virtual Volunteer teams to teach your community about the importance of the courts and tell your own story:
- Community Mobilization Team: Learn how to lead a teach-in and mobilize your communities to ensure our demands reach every corner of the country.
- Social Media Team: Take action online by sharing accurate info about abortion access.
- Storytelling Team: Tell your story and help advocate for abortion access in the media.
We won’t give up the fight for reproductive freedom — not now, not ever. Let’s work together to make sure that our courts represent our values and protect our rights.
Tags: Federal Courts