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How Supreme Court Cases on Gun Violence and Abortion Will Affect Women
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How Supreme Court Cases on Gun Violence and Abortion Will Affect Women

In the 2023 term, the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to hear two cases, one on gun violence and one on abortion access, that will directly and disproportionately affect women.

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The U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, June 2020. (Getty/Chip Somodevilla)

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court officially kicks off its fall 2023 oral arguments, during which the justices will delve into some of the most politicized topics of the year. Leading up to this new term, the Supreme Court has been roiled with controversy, from the upending of legal precedent to serious ethics violations. This has resulted in an all-time low of public confidence in the court—all in all, putting even more weight on this term’s upcoming decisions than deliberations usually carry.

This term, two potential cases may force the Supreme Court to confront decisions it made in 2022: United States v. Rahimi and Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. Food and Drug Administration would have direct impacts on the security, safety, and future of women in America.

Below are the basics of each case.

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United States v. Rahimi

United States v. Rahimi will partly determine the future of gun violence prevention policies and domestic violence in the United States. The case began on February 5, 2020, in Texas’ Tarrant County District Court, when a woman filed a civil restraining order against her boyfriend—the defendant, Zackey Rahimi—on the specific grounds of domestic violence, after he allegedly assaulted her and threatened to shoot her if she told anyone. The filing triggered federal law 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8), an amendment to the Federal Firearms Act that prohibits those actively subject to domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms. Rahimi was later found to possess firearms despite the restraining order and was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8). This conviction was appealed from the District Court to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Department of Justice has now has brought it to the Supreme Court. Oral arguments are scheduled for November 7, 2023.

Protestor with a sign that reads

Tell the Supreme Court To Protect Women, Not Guns

The who, what, and why of United States v. Rahimi

WHO: The Department of Justice and lawyers for Rahimi are litigating this case. Overall, however, Rahimi will have direct impacts affecting the safety and security of all survivors of domestic violence. Domestic violence is broadly defined as a “pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.” Although domestic violence can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, it overwhelmingly happens to women.

The history of the facts in Rahimi exemplify how domestic violence in the United States is “pervasive, deadly, and inextricably linked with firearms.”

The facts in Rahimi exemplify gun and domestic violence statistics at the national level:

WHAT: The heart of this case concerns whether the federal law under which Rahimi was charged—18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8)—is constitutional under the Second Amendment, which revolves around the right to bear arms in the United States. 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8) has been on the books for almost 30 years, and it has proved effective in reducing homicide rates. States with laws mirroring the language of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8) have shown an associated 13 percent reduction in intimate-partner firearm homicides. If the Supreme Court finds 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8) unconstitutional, domestic violence survivors will have one less avenue for protection.

WHY: The constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8) is being questioned because of a random framework the Supreme Court abruptly created in the 2022 case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen. Prior to that case, the Supreme Court rarely struck down gun violence prevention policies, but its new test eliminates the requirement of an “important governmental interest”—such as public safety—which was essential to upholding such policies. Few cases demonstrate the immediate dire consequence of the new test quite like Rahimi, as it began in a pre-Bruen world. Rahimi was initially appealed from the District Court to the 5th Circuit in December 2021, with the 5th Circuit ultimately stating in a footnote that 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8) did not violate the Constitution. However, six months after the ruling in Bruen, the 5th Circuit withdrew its initial decision and issued a new ruling that found the same law unconstitutional. The 5th Circuit majority explicitly stated, however, that 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8) is a “laudable” policy goal that but for Bruen it would have found constitutional.

Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. Food and Drug Administration

The Supreme Court is also expected to decide whether it will hear Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a controversial case regarding the FDA’s safety determinations on mifepristone. Mifepristone is the only FDA-approved option for the first medicine in a two-step regimen for medication abortion. The case was initially filed in the Northern District of Texas and subsequently appealed to the 5th Circuit.

On September 8, 2023, the defendants—the U.S. Department of Justice and Danco Laboratories, a manufacturer of mifepristone—petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case. If the petition is granted, it is possible that the case could be heard during the fall 2023 term or early in 2024. Even if the Supreme Court declines to hear the case, however, that decision on its own would have a significant impact on women across the country. In that circumstance, the 5th Circuit ruling would come into effect, which perhaps most notably would eliminate care through telehealth—which has proved vital in ensuring continued access to abortion—across the country.

The who, what, and why of Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA

WHO: The litigation began when a group of plaintiffs who oppose abortion care sued the FDA in order to end nationwide access to mifepristone. In Alliance, the identities of the plaintiffs—or the entities filing the lawsuit—are telling. One of the plaintiffs, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine (AHM), was arguably created for the purpose of bringing this lawsuit in front of specific judges that were amenable to the plaintiffs’ cause. This case was filed three months after AHM was created and incorporated in Amarillo, Texas, in 2022, despite the fact that it did not have any presence in the region. However, Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, an openly anti-abortion Trump appointee, presides over a single-judge District Court in Amarillo. This suggests the plaintiffs likely picked a judge whose ideology aligned with their desired outcome, which in turn highlights the politicization of the judiciary.

WHAT: The heart of this case is about eradicating medication abortion. Mifepristone is one of the most examined medications in America and has proved to be safe and effective. Indeed, the FDA has evaluated its safety at least four times in the more than 22 years it has been on the market. It has been used by more than 5 million women in the United States and is used in more than half of all abortions in the nation. Even beyond abortion, however, the case is dangerous because it opens the door to the politicization of medicine, where any political actors can challenge the safety determinations of medications that the FDA has already reviewed extensively.

WHY: The safety and efficacy of mifepristone is being challenged because medication abortion remains a critical avenue for meaningful abortion access in the United States. The Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion through its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, but the ruling did not explicitly discuss medication abortion.

Conclusion

Rahimi and Alliance underscore how much is at stake for women in the fall 2023 Supreme Court term. It is imperative that the court protect the security, safety, and agency of all women in the United States.

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Author

Sabrina Talukder

Director, Women’s Initiative

Team

Women’s Initiative

The Women’s Initiative develops robust, progressive policies and solutions to ensure all women can participate in the economy and live healthy, productive lives.

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U.S. Supreme Court building

This series explores the intersecting legal and policy issues at play in United States v. Rahimi by centering what is at stake: the lives of countless domestic violence survivors and the future of gun violence prevention policies in the hands of an activist Supreme Court.

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