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Feminist Majority "Supreme Court in Peril" Chat Series of 2003

Connie Watts, director, Responsible Choices Field Operations
Deena Maerowitz, Lobbyist
Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA)

Connie Watts, director, Responsible Choices Field Operations joined PPFA in 1997 as field manager before becoming director of Planned Parenthoods field department after serving as Public Affairs Director at Planned Parenthood of Utah for 8 years. During her 12 years with Planned Parenthood, Connies primary focus has always been on advancing Planned Parenthoods public policy goals and building affiliates capacity to support this goal.

Prior to coming to PPFA, Deena Maerowitz worked at the Childrens Defense Fund in the capacity of Deputy Director, Programs and Policy. She was responsible for overseeing and providing direction to policy division directors and staff on Childrens Defense Fund for Senior Vice President and Presidents Office. Deena assisted with writing and editing Childrens Defense Fund publications and The Act To Leave No Child Behind. Additionally, Deena managed the Childrens Defense Fund law clerk program. Deena Maerowitz is the Legislative Representative on abortion and judicial nominations issues. Deena lobbies members of Congress and their staff on reproductive health and related legislation and serves as PPFAs "voice on the Hill" to ensure Congress is informed and aware of PPFAs message and issue priorities to influence the outcome of federal legislation and federal policies.

Moderator: Welcome.
Deena Maerowitz : Hello
posted:6/12/2003 1:51:00 PM CST

Moderator: Welcome.
Connie Watts: Hi
posted:6/12/2003 1:52:00 PM CST

Jen: is there a greater threat in the courts at the federal or state level?
Connie Watts: Courts are important at all levels. That said, were especially concerned about the federal judiciary in terms of womens reproductive choice. Federal appellate are often courts of last resort in many, many cases...
posted:6/12/2003 2:01:00 PM CST

Erika: Do you think that the Laci Peterson case will be bad for reproductive rights if they decide that killing the fetus was infanticde? Is there any precedence for this kind of case?
Deena Maerowitz : Our hearts go out to the Peterson family for their loss. We would hope that the tragedy that happened to Laci brings more attention to the issue of domestic violence towards women. The majority of women who die as a result of domestic violence are pregnant when they are assaulted.
posted:6/12/2003 2:03:00 PM CST

Lucy: What are some of the challenges of pro-choice lobbying in the current political climate?
Deena Maerowitz : The climate is challenging for those of us who continue to fight for womens reproductive choice. We must continue to ensure that women have choices about their own lives and bodies.
posted:6/12/2003 2:05:00 PM CST

Pauline: Do you think there will be a Supreme Court retirement soon? Why is it so important?
Deena Maerowitz : We are keeping a close eye on judicial nominations in all courts. We are preparing for an opening on the Court and will fight to ensure that any Justices nominated support a womans right to choose.
posted:6/12/2003 2:06:00 PM CST

Carrie: What are the practical implications of all these right-wing judicial nominees on womens access to reproductive choices?
Connie Watts: The right to choose hangs in the balance. For many cases involving reproductive rights, the appellate courts are the courts of last resort. Therefore, its really important that judges sitting on these appellate court support a womans right to choose.
posted:6/12/2003 2:08:00 PM CST

Amy: What suggestions do you have for how to educate people at the grassroots level about the importance of judicial appointments. I think that most believe dont understand the very basic elements of how judicial nominations and confirmations happen.
Connie Watts: There are a number of approaches to educating people. A very basic, but effective idea is to start a letter writers group that writes letters and submits them to local newspapers to reach a large number of people. Another idea is to hold house parties with your friends and colleagues to talk about what is at stake.
posted:6/12/2003 2:10:00 PM CST

Janice: If the federal appellate courts are the court of last resort in most cases, then why is everyone focused on the Supreme Court?
Connie Watts: A very good question! The Supreme Courts ruling is still the law of the land and every appellate court must follow the rulings of the Supreme Court. If the Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, then it would have a great effect on all our courts.
posted:6/12/2003 2:13:00 PM CST

Jen: I saw a video recently where a couple had just lost their daughter due to a back alley abortion- they lived in Indiana and the girl tried to avoid a parental notification law, and the parents had no idea it existed. Is there any program in place to inform parents of the laws in their state that might be endangering their daughters?
Connie Watts: One source to find out about the laws in your state is through Check under fact sheets.
posted:6/12/2003 2:15:00 PM CST

Jaime: What is PPFA lobbying on currently? Does it include encouraging pro-choice Dems to filibuster any anti-choice Supreme Court nominee?
Deena Maerowitz : When a Supreme Court opening occurs, we will encourage members of Congress to work hard to ensure that a Justice supports a womans right to choose.
posted:6/12/2003 2:17:00 PM CST

Jon: Do you support the Laci Peterson bill that has been introduced in Congress?
Deena Maerowitz : Our hearts go out to the Peterson family for their tragic loss. We do not support the so called Unborn Victims of Violence Act in that this law does nothing to protect women who are victims of domestic violence.
posted:6/12/2003 2:19:00 PM CST

Helen: Which of the Circuit Courts are most important? Which are in danger of becoming dominated by far right or anti-choice judges?
Connie Watts: There is currently a majority of Republican appointed justices in 9 of our circuits. (DC, 1st, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 10th, 11th.
posted:6/12/2003 2:20:00 PM CST

Joann: How do you plan to include more young women in the movement? They seem so detached.
Connie Watts: I completely agree that young women (and men) are essential to this movement - but the good news is I believe they are a growing, vibrant part of our movement now. Planned Parenthood has student chapters on 109 campuses nationwide. Our sisters here at Feminist Majority also have impressive reach with college aged activists. You should have heard already but next April the 25th were having the largest march in history here in Washington, D.C. We know the crowd will be FILLED with young people.
posted:6/12/2003 2:21:00 PM CST

Julie: i realize the importance of judicial nominations, and Im already a member of the PPFA action network-- do you have any suggestions of other ways to get active in helping to block some of Buishs anti-choice nominations?
Connie Watts: You should get involved with your local Planned Parenthood affiliate or other local group. Many of use plan activities and events to raise awareness on an on-going basis... All of our local chapters need warm bodies to do the very important work of raising the issues in the community.
posted:6/12/2003 2:25:00 PM CST

Jenny: Why is the March for Choice happening next year? Dont you want to have it before Bush gets a chance to nominate a Supreme Court justice?
Connie Watts: We believe April of next year is perfect timing to raise awareness about the war on women by the Bush administration. Yes - we may have a Supreme Court vacancy before then but even the fact that were organizing now for the largest march ever helps with stopping bad nominees now.
posted:6/12/2003 2:27:00 PM CST

Annie: The Womens Center at my school wants to be seen as apolitical, so they are afraid to take a vocal pro-choice stand. How do you deal with this attitude in your campus organizing?
Connie Watts: First - organize now, even if you arent officially recognized by your university. Get your friends together and commit to getting things done. Perhaps the first organizing goal youll undertake is to raise awareness on your campus about just what is at stake.
posted:6/12/2003 2:29:00 PM CST

Jen: do you think the latest bill of partial-birth abortion ban, which passed Congress, will be found unconstitutional by the supreme court?
Deena Maerowitz : Well - if none of the current Supreme Court justices retire before they might hear this case then yes - it should be overturned because it is in fact nearly identical to the last case the heard relating to this issue (Stenberg v. Carhart). LIke Stenberg, the current legislation lacks a health exception for the mother and could also apply to second trimester previability abortions.
posted:6/12/2003 2:31:00 PM CST

Deena Maerowitz : Bravo for you! We need you and in many ways seniors can be the very best organizers. Many seniors have more free time. You should get a group together - and just like with campus groups - map out goals and tactics. Writing letters to the editor - or even doing a demonstration can be really effective with a group of seniors. Plus - DONT FORGET THE MARCH NEXT YEAR! We want to see people of all ages - and more senior women lived through the pre-Roe years. You go girl!
posted:6/12/2003 2:33:00 PM CST

mary lou: is working at planned parenthood fun?
Connie Watts: Yes! Its amazing - full of incredible people all over the country. I absolutely love my job - but it is very, very busy and intense. There is so much at stake and we have no choice but to win!
posted:6/12/2003 2:36:00 PM CST

Jen: What do you think is the most urgant issue today for women?
Deena Maerowitz : There are so many potential impediments to a womans right to choose. Roe v. Wade hangs by a thread.
posted:6/12/2003 2:38:00 PM CST

Jen: What career advice do you have for young feminists?
Deena Maerowitz : Work doing what you love! I meet with women every week who want to do the type of work I do! Im a lawyer and I think Im a lot happier than many of my friends from law school who dont find their work as relevant to their community and lives!
posted:6/12/2003 2:40:00 PM CST

Sarah: How have decisions by the courts affected Planned Parenthood clinics?
Connie Watts: Two examples: Rulings in the appellate courts have affected restrictions on minors access to abortion, counseling requirements prior to obtaining an abortion.
posted:6/12/2003 2:42:00 PM CST

Niki: Im a student in Maine. What can I do to help stop Bush from appointing an anti-choice justice to the Supreme Court?
Connie Watts: Organize with your campus and become an activist. You can engage with your members of congress through letters and calls! Voice your opinion!
posted:6/12/2003 2:44:00 PM CST

Since we know that fully one-third of the Court of Appeals cases considering the constitutionality of an abortion restriction are decided by split panels, where the judges looking at the same set of facts disagree about how to apply controlling Supreme Court case law, what does that mean for Miguel Estrada if he were to sit on the D.C. Circuit? Does he pose a threat to reproductive rights? How many abortion-related cases does the D.C. Circuit hear each year?
Connie Watts: We opposed Miguel Estradas nomination to the DC Circuit court because we SIMPLY do not know enough at all about his background and opinions! We will not support a nominee who does not state that she or he supports a womens right to choose.
The DC Circuit Court is especially important b/c it is viewed as second only to the Supreme Court in influence over issues. It has exclusive jurisdiction not only over the DC District Court but also over federal reglatory agency appeals, and therefore has a special role! It establishes precedent that can affect all of us.
posted:6/12/2003 2:46:00 PM CST

Nancy: What can I tell my friends to explain why the Circuit Courts are important to womens rights?
Connie Watts: One of the most compelling pieces you can share with someone that describes the problem is the War on Women document Planned Parenthood has on our web site. Its an incredible chronology of cut after cut at reproductive rights in the Bush administration. Everyone Ive shared it with has been outraged!
posted:6/12/2003 2:49:00 PM CST

Jen: I know that around 87% of counties in the US have no abortion access- are new clinics being opened, or is the focus on stregnthening existing clinics?
Connie Watts: You are right - the focus is keeping the doors of exisiting clinics open. State legislatures across the country have made it harder and harder for health care providers to offer reproductive health care. Access issues often affect women who need health services the most.
posted:6/12/2003 2:53:00 PM CST

Marcia: Aside from Roe v. Wade, what are some cases or rights that are at stake if there is an anti-choice justice appointed to the Supreme Court?
Deena Maerowitz : We work with a broad coalition of organizations who are concerned with issues ranging from environmental protection to civil rights. A Supreme Court Justice who does not support many of our fundamental rights from choice to civil rights to envirnomental rights will affect all of us.
posted:6/12/2003 2:57:00 PM CST

Moderator: Thanks for participating.
Connie Watts: Thank you for joining us today. Please join us in our fight to protect our
reproductive rights. For more information about judicial nominations and
getting involved visit either the PPFA website at or the Feminist Majoritys Million4Roe
campaign site at We hope you will join us again
for our continuing June chat series, Supreme Court in Peril.

posted:6/12/2003 3:00:00 PM CST

Moderator: Thanks for participating.
Deena Maerowitz : We love your energy - please stay involved and help all of us by organizing your friends and neighbors!
posted:6/12/2003 3:01:00 PM CST


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