Portland City Council Will Urge City Attorneys to Advocate for Pro-Choice Court Rulings, From Afar

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty hopes city attorneys can woo judges in Alabama and Ohio.

Women's March on Portland, Jan. 21, 2017. (Joe Riedl)

As states across the nation see a wave of increasingly strict anti-abortion legislation being passed, a Portland official is seeking to stunt the restrictions however possible—even from afar.

Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty introduced a city resolution on Wednesday urging Portland city attorneys to submit written testimony to ongoing abortion appellate cases in two other states to sway the court in favor of pro-choice case rulings.

The two states are Alabama and Ohio, which have both trail-blazed harsher abortion restrictions in the past several years.

The resolution would encourage city attorneys to file what are called "amicus briefs," submissions to the court that provide additional information, perspective or expertise on appellate cases.

Judges presiding over the cases are not obligated to take filed briefs into account when reaching a decision.

In a rare win for pro-choice advocates in Alabama last week, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the state that would revive a ban on abortions performed more than 15 weeks after conception. The idea for the ban initially was blocked by the lower courts in 2016, but recently experienced a revival. The southern state's abortion laws are some of the harshest in the nation.

Ohio's heartbeat law, which was supposed to take effect this week and would ban abortions after a heartbeat could first be detected, was blocked by a judge on July 3.

"We've seen first-hand the devastation that comes when abortions are not legal, safe, and accessible," Hardesty said in a statement. "I'm calling on us as a city to hold the line here and ask other progressive cities to join us in defending reproductive rights throughout the country."

The resolution was co-created by Hardesty and pro-choice advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, where Hardesty was once a board member. Several grassroots groups will attend the council meeting and provide testimony in support of the bill.

"As we face unprecedented attacks on abortion care throughout the United States, it is imperative that our local leaders make it clear that abortion is healthcare and the right to decide when and if to have children is fundamental and unassailable," said Grayson Dempsey, Director of the pro-choice group.

Attorneys who file amicus briefs are, by definition, not legally involved in the case that they're supplying information for. The term translates to "friend of the court" and can be highly subjective—briefs are usually filed by remote attorneys who have strong opinions on cases they're not directly involved in.

Hardesty's statement explains that "the resolution also directs the City Attorneys to build a coalition of city attorneys from throughout the country to tackle other already passed or forthcoming anti-abortion laws."

The resolution is co-sponsored by all members of City Council, and should pass unanimously this afternoon.

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