The Dudley T. Dougherty Foundation

Sissy Farenthold Reproductive Justice Defense Resource Project

Grant Information
Categories Community , Healthcare , Education
Location Texas
Cycle Year 2022
Organization Information
Organization Name (provided by applicant) Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, University of Texas School of Law
Organization Name (provided by automatic EIN validation)
University of texas law school foundation
EIN 74-6056794
Website https://law.utexas.edu/humanrights/
Contact Information
Contact Name Ms. Karen Engle
Phone 512-694-5392
E-mail kengle@law.utexas.edu
Address
727 E Dean Keeton St
TNH 3.119
Austin
TX
78705-3224
Additional Information
Used for Grant funds will be used to support the Sissy Farenthold Reproductive Justice Defense Resource Project, a new initiative of the Sissy Farenthold Fund for Peace and Justice, which the Dudley T. Dougherty Foundation generously helped found. The resource project will work to ensure reproductive healthcare access in Texas in light of the threat of aggressive criminal prosecutions against providers, abortion funds, and even pregnant persons and their families under various criminal statutes. Following the model of the resource centers established in the 1980s to support trial attorneys in death penalty cases, we are mobilizing and coordinating a network of attorneys and legal experts, alongside community partners, to assist local lawyers in the representation of those charged through the provision of a variety of resources—from legal research and sample pleadings to legal and trial advocacy training and moot trial practice.
Benefits The resources will help ensure successful representation of those criminally charged for abortion or other pregnancy-related offenses in Texas, particularly but not only of those with insufficient financial and legal resources. By increasing the chances of success at the trial level, especially in early prosecutions under the new abortion law, the project will make it less likely for subsequent prosecutions to occur. In addition, through public programming and and tracking of prosecutions, the project will inform state and national policy and political advocacy by providing compelling evidence of the impact of abortion criminalization.
Proposal Description

 

The inaugural event of the Sissy Farenthold Fund for Peace and Social Justice consisted of two webinar roundtables with lawyers, policymakers, activists, and civic leaders to discuss strategies for ensuring reproductive justice for Texans after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. The webinars attracted over 200 people, including a number from outside of the state, given that many see Texas as ground zero for battles over abortion access. The Fund has also established scholarships for two UT law students to spend the 2022-23 academic year working on programing and advocacy on national and international issues of reproductive justice.

Through these webinars as well as multiple discussions across the country with elected officials, abortion fund representatives, and attorneys and legal scholars, a clear need has emerged: ensuring quality legal resources for those who face criminal charges or civil suits for facilitating access to abortion, including providers, friends, family members, and community organizations and funds supporting pregnant persons. While not currently targeted under the abortion law, pregnant persons are not immune from prosecution; as in the past, those suspected of having self-managed abortions might face charges under assault, child abuse, or homicide statutes.

Although all potentially pregnant persons and those who would assist them will experience the chilling effect of anti-abortion laws, those with few resources will continue to bear the brunt of both lack of access to safe, legal abortion and overcriminalization. Based on threats by prosecutors, legislators, and private individuals represented by organized anti-abortion activists, we anticipate aggressive and unprincipled prosecutions and civil lawsuits in mostly rural counties in Texas without public defenders, including Eastland, Fannin, Franklin, Hockley, Hood, Jack, Panola, Rusk, Smith, Taylor, and Tarrant. Indigent criminal defendants are thus likely to receive court-appointed counsel who lack the experience or resources to work through the complex legal issues involved in these cases.

To meet this acute need, we have begun the Sissy Farenthold Reproductive Justice Defense Resource Project. We are already working with both national and Texas-based reproductive rights organizations, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and ten national law firms, many with Texas offices, to ensure that we can both serve Texans in this area and create a project that can be a model for other abortion restrictive states.

In early 2023, we plan to hire a full-time experienced lawyer (director) and program coordinator to organize and lead a largely volunteer structure, including an expert panel of lawyers and legal scholars to advise on the complex array of legal issues involved (criminal, constitutional, health, immigration, family, privacy, and data security). The director and coordinator will engage in outreach to and provide resources and training for local attorneys offering direct representation, pro bono attorneys who assist them, and advocacy organizations. Pro bono attorneys will be drawn from large national law firms around the country. The director will also work with law and graduate students to conduct legal research and track litigation.

The Project’s home in the Rapoport Center will allow for in-kind resources (office space, library access, etc.) and will be key to the collaboration between national legal experts, local advocacy organizations, and attorneys across the state. It will also make possible the cross-campus collaboration needed for the tracking research.

The following lawyers and legal scholars are on the advisory board: Aimee Arrambide (Avow), Aziza Ahmed (Professor, Boston University School of Law), Maddy Dwertman (Sr. Associate, Baker Botts, Austin), Jennifer Ecklund (Partner, Thompson Coburn, Dallas), Karen Engle (Professor and Co-director, Rapoport Center, UT School of Law), Barbara Hines (Professor, UT School of Law), Jennifer Laurin (Professor, UT School of Law), Rachel Rebouché (Dean and Professor, Temple University Beasley School of Law), Jane Tigar (defense attorney with extensive practice), and Michael Tigar (former UT law professor and Emeritus Professor of Law, Duke Law School).

The Jacob & Therese Hershey Foundation and the Collaborative for Gender + Reproductive Equity have together already generously contributed $350,000 to the project. We are also in the final stages of grants with two other foundations.