Before I lived in Northern Virginia, I visited the DC area several times. Not only am I an American history and government junkie, I’m also passionate about reproductive rights. The first time I went to the Supreme Court, I remember feeling in awe of the building and what it represented. Since that moment, I had always wanted to hear the oral arguments of a case in this amazing building. When I learned that the Supreme Court would be hearing Whole Woman’s Heath v Hellerstedt I knew instantly that I wanted to go. I wondered for a day or two if I would be crazy enough to do what it would take to get in to hear the arguments. But I already knew. I had to do it.
I arrived at the Supreme Court just before 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, exactly 24 hours before the rally outside the Supreme Court began on Wednesday and 26 hours before the case was heard. It looked like there were about 20-25 people in line. After I got settled in, I learned that 15 of those people arrived the night before, and there was also a group of women who traveled all the way from New York to stake their place in line an hour before I did. Now it was time to just sit and wait.
The first two hours or so went by insanely slow. Only one other person had joined the line at that time and people were mostly keeping to themselves. As the morning wore on and business of the city began, people walking past would sometimes stop and ask what we were waiting for. They asked what the case was about, if we were staying the night, which side we were on, etc. It was through all the questioning that I learned most of the people waiting with me were opposed to the Texas TRAP laws and were also strong advocates of reproductive rights. Hooray!
I passed the time mostly by reading and chatting with my fellow line sitters. From time to time I would get up and take a walk to the nearby Starbucks. People were very good about keeping your spot and watching your belongings for you if you needed a short break. I think of it as the comraderies of our craziness that kept everyone happy. As the day turned into night, more and more people showed up. Although we had all been sitting outside for hours now, the mood picked up as the time passed. We all hoped we might get some sleep, somehow.
Sometime after dark people from the anti-choice side began arriving. They began a group prayer, complete with a microphone, music, and singing. While some carried anti-choice signs and were clearly there to make their statement, they kept to their area and those of us in line kept to ours. I did have one moment of pure disgust, though– David Daleiden, the slimy, disgusting person who was indicted—by a Texas court– for falsifying and manipulating the discredited Planned Parenthood videos was there. YUCK!
That night, between the singing, the wind, and the rain, little sleep was had. As we neared daylight the mood in line grew more excited and more upbeat. We were so close to what we had all been waiting for—hearing the most important challenge to abortion rights access in a generation. Finally, the Supreme Court staff lined us up and began counting. I believe they let about 50 people from the general public line in (I was #25). The boredom, cold, rain, wind, and lack of sleep paid off. I was in and I was about to see a MAJOR Supreme Court case be argued.
Upon entering the courtroom, my first thought was literally “Oh. My. God.” The room felt like a sacred space and I could not believe I was there to hear this Whole Women’s Health case. Once the arguments began, I felt like I was watching an intellectual tennis match. Ms. Toti (the attorney for the Center of Reproductive Rights) barely got into her opening statements when the questions from Justices began. The volley of questions and answers continued at a fast pace throughout the hearing and I have to admit, I was wishing I had some background in law for some of the questions.
While the questions that came from Justices Roberts and Alito were clearly trying to shut the arguments of Whole Woman’s Health down, Justices Ginsberg, Kagan, Sotomayor and Kennedy did an excellent job of poking holes in the rationale behind Texas law. One of my favorite moments was when Justice Kagan compared the law to a controlled experiment when she asked, “It’s almost like the perfect controlled experiment … as to the effect of the law, isn’t it? It’s like you put the law into effect, 12 clinics closed. You take the law out of effect, they reopen?” The answer was a definitive yes.
Of course, it is Justice Kennedy that is the wildcard in this. When the arguments started, I felt that he might be siding with the Texas law. However, as time went on, I began to feel as if he may side with Whole Woman’s Health. The entire arguments took only an hour and a half. After having almost a week to reflect on it, I feel very hopeful that the court will rule that the Texas law does indeed place an undue burden on women and their healthcare decisions.
Now, we wait for June.