U.S. abortion rights groups and law firms launch legal defense network

FILE PHOTO: Pro-abortion demonstrators march to the State Capitol to mark the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in Madison

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) -Major abortion rights organizations and private law firms have teamed up to provide legal counsel to patients and providers navigating the complicated patchwork of U.S. abortion laws, the groups said on Wednesday.

The newly created Abortion Defense Network, which includes such groups as the Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said it will match people providing or supporting abortion services to attorneys who can defend them in a rapidly shifting legal landscape.

The Supreme Court's June 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a nearly 50-year-old precedent that established federal abortion rights, has resulted in a dozen states banning abortion almost entirely.

Abortion rights advocates are increasingly concerned about those states' efforts to prosecute patients who are traveling across state lines or self-managing abortions at home, as well as providers whose medical judgment might conflict with state law.

“We've created the Abortion Defense Network to help those involved with abortion care navigate this confusing and hostile legal landscape," Jennifer Dalven, Director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at the ACLU, said in a statement.

The Abortion Defense Network said it will help cover legal expenses in criminal and civil proceedings, but did not immediately respond to questions about their funding and how much they will cover.

The group's launch comes a day after 20 Democratic governors announced they had formed an alliance to protect abortion rights and access within their states.

Abortion rights supporters have been frustrated with the limited strides the Biden administration has made to safeguard abortion access post-Roe. President Joe Biden's administration has sought to improve access to medication abortion, which involves a federally approved pill, but an upcoming federal court decision could jeopardize that avenue as well.

Abortion providers and those supporting abortion patients can seek counsel through the network, while patients will be referred to a helpline already run by If/When/How, one of the network's advocacy partners.

Among the private firms committed to providing legal resources for the network are Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, Goodwin Procter LLP, Hogan Lovells US LLP, Morrison & Foerster LLP, O'Melveny & Myers LLP, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Josie Kao)