Senators Unveil New Captured Courts Report on Texas Assault on Reproductive Rights

September 29, 2021

Senate Democrats reveal dark-money scheme behind anti-abortion crusade

Senate Democrats, led by Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC) Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Senate Judiciary Courts Subcommittee Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), released a new report in their Captured Courts series on the corrosive effect of a Supreme Court controlled by dark-money interests on women’s reproductive freedom. 

The new report focuses on the “shadow docket” ruling by Republican appointees to the Court that permitted Texas’s S.B.8 anti-abortion law to proceed—virtually banning abortion care and, as Justice Sotomayor said in her dissent, “deputiz[ing] the state’s citizens as bounty hunters, offering them cash prizes for civilly prosecuting their neighbors’ medical procedures.”  Right-wing donor interests have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to stack the Court with anti-abortion justices like Amy Coney Barret, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch, who have already pushed abortion care almost entirely out of reach for one in ten U.S. women of reproductive age with the Texas ruling.  Now, the Court is delivering for those donors, and appears poised to strike at the heart of reproductive freedom—the decades-old precedent of Roe v. Wade.

The vast majority of Americans don’t want government intruding on a woman’s fundamental constitutional right to her own reproductive health care choices.  That’s why the dark-money forces behind S.B.8 engineered an anti-abortion majority on the Supreme Court – to do things the American people won’t abide from elected branches of government,” said Whitehouse, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Courts.  “Our report reveals the massive dark-money campaign to guarantee outcomes favoring right-wing donors, and sheds light on the secretive ‘shadow docket’ that Republican justices use to shield their decisions from scrutiny.”

“Every woman in our country has the right to make her own reproductive health choices. The Supreme Court’s decision on Texas’ harsh abortion ban was an appalling attack on these personal freedoms,” said Senator Stabenow. “This report shines a bright light on how Republicans and well-funded groups are using our judicial system to take away the freedom of women to make their own health care decisions.” 

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) cosigned the report.

The new report shows how millions in funding from corporate special interests and ultra-wealthy donors like the Koch brothers fed challenges to women’s access to reproductive care.  For decades, that network of donors invested in groups and activities with the goal of overturning Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Koch-funded groups like the Concerned Women for America, Americans United for Life, and the Judicial Crisis Network drafted anti-abortion legislation for state legislatures and funded ad campaigns to support the confirmation of anti-abortion judges and justices. They also guided the Trump administration to appoint swaths of conservative judges who often lack basic qualifications, but are wholly committed to advancing the conservative agenda.   

Now, that exorbitant spending is paying off.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, over 500 abortion restrictions have been introduced this year across 47 states, and over 90 of those have already been passed and signed, including 11 bans on abortion.  Meanwhile, the new 6-3 Republican majority on the Court is now set to hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to reconsider whether pre-viability abortion bans are constitutional, despite clear precedents settling that question for almost 50 years. 

The report details actions Congress should take now to protect abortion access, including passing the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021. This bill would establish a statutory right for health care professionals to provide abortion care and the right for their patients to receive care, free from bans and medically unnecessary restrictions that single out abortion care. Congress should also pass measures, such as the Judicial Ads Act, to combat dark money influence over judicial nominations.

Last year, Stabenow, Schumer and Whitehouse led senators in releasing a series of Captured Courts reports on the right-wing takeover of our judicial system.  The reports showed how, working hand-in-hand with the Trump administration and anonymously funded outside groups, the Senate confirmed more than 200 life-tenured federal judges to aggressively remake the federal courts and rewrite the Constitution.  Most Trump judges were chosen not for their qualifications or experience—which were often plainly lacking—but for their demonstrated allegiance to Republican Party political goals. 

Read the new report here.

###