Emma Halling


Emma was a dual major in American Studies and women, gender, & sexuality studies, with minors in public policy and economics. She served as Student Body Vice President at the University of Kansas, where she prioritized Title IX-sexual assault efforts. Her primary area of focus is state-level reproductive health policy, and she frequently advocated in the State Legislature on behalf of young people and reproductive justice.



Location: Lawrence, KS, United States

    Issues Areas:
  • Reproductive Rights, Health, and Justice

Campus: University of Kansas at Lawrence - Lawrence, KS

Fellowship Class Year: 2014

Emma Halling's Blog Posts

Understanding the Most Important Reproductive Rights Case in Decades

Activists protests for reproductive health access in Texas. (Credit: Creative Commons/Flickr)


Earlier this year, Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg told an interviewer that “[w]e will never see a day when women of means will not be able to get a safe abortion.” Last week, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, a case that will essentially decide whether thousands of average and low-income folks will have access to safe abortions. Whole Woman’s Health is a challenge to HB 2, the Texas abortion clinic restrictions Wendy Davis famously filibustered in 2013.

Whole Woman’s Health is a gynecological clinic with offices in Fort Worth and San Antonio. It is challenging two provisions of HB 2: a requirement that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the clinic, and requirements that all clinics performing abortions be outfitted as “ambulatory surgical centers.” The Texas legislature argues that these requirements are to protect women. Opponents argue that these restrictions are thinly-veiled attempts to shut down clinics and severely limit access to abortion.

The Supreme Court will decide first whether it is the place of the courts to assess whether or not the law fulfills its purpose of “protecting women.” The “big picture” question follows: do these restrictions constitute an “undue burden”? In Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, the Supreme Court held that states may restrict abortion so long as those restrictions do not place a “substantial obstacle” in the path of those seeking a pre-viability abortion.

Perhaps these restrictions seem well-meaning on their face. After all, doesn’t “increased safety” sound like a good thing? A slightly deeper look reveals that these restrictions are not about safety, but about restricting abortion access for political reasons. Abortion is a very safe medical procedure. The risk of major complications in a first-trimester pregnancy is incredibly low; the risk of a major complication requiring hospitalization is .05%. Additionally, people have safely been getting abortions  for decades now– with this low complication rate– at clinics not outfitted as ambulatory surgical centers. (For comparison, the major complication rate for colonoscopies is higher than for abortion)

So what is the real impact of this law? Abortion providers often cannot get admitting privileges at hospitals because of political pressure from anti-abortion activists. (Happening in Columbia, MO right now). Further, retrofitting a clinic as an ambulatory surgical center is expensive and sometimes not possible given the building’s infrastructure. If clinics cannot overcome these obstacles, they will close. People seeking abortions will have to take off work or find child care to travel up to 250 miles one way, wait for 24 hours, and then travel another 250 miles back home.


NYTimes infographic. Updated June 2015

This is simply not possible for many people who work hourly jobs, who don’t have reliable transportation, or can’t afford childcare. In effect, we will return to the world Justice Ginsburg was referring to: wealthy folks can travel long distances (or internationally) to get the health care they need, while poor people will be forced into either continuing unwanted pregnancies or taking matters into their own hands. In fact, since the law in question went into effect, an estimated 100,000 to 240,000 Texas women have tried to self-induce an abortion without medical guidance. Ultimately, under the guise of “safety,” the state of Texas is likely pushing people into riskier health decisions, all in the name of political anti-abortion sentiment.

Purvi Patel

Reproductive Justice and the Courts: Reflections on CLPP

By Emma Halling, 2014 YP4 Fellow

Early this April, I convened with hundreds of other reproductive-justice-minded individuals upon Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts for the annual Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) conference. With a decidedly anti-reproductive justice federal legislature and many state legislatures similarly disposed, we certainly had a lot to talk about this year.

Given my work in Young People For’s 2014-2015 Courts Matter cohort, I was particularly concerned with the connections between reproductive justice and our nation’s judicial system. Many folks were discussing the criminalization of pregnant women given the very recent conviction of Purvi Patel in Indiana for having a miscarriage. Others were discussing the threat posed to reproductive justice by the school-to-prison-pipeline and the widespread convictions of youth of color to extended (and even lifelong) prison stays for minor infractions. Because the court system plays a major role in negotiating individuals’ bodily autonomy and ability to create and maintain families, courts deserve extra scrutiny when activists are creating a vision for the future in which all individuals and communities enjoy “liveable lives,” as Judith Butler would say.

While some court cases like that of Purvi Patel make national headlines, others go largely ignored except by those whose families and communities are devastated. In a workshop on the criminalization of pregnant and parenting women who use drugs, CLPP participants discussed the impact of laws criminalizing drug-using mothers on families and communities. State laws, some new and some dating back to the so-called “crack epidemic” of the 1980s, charge pregnant women who are found to have used drugs with crimes ranging from “endangerment of a child” to “assault.” Arresting and charging parents like Mallory Loyola of Tennessee separates families by relegating children to the foster care system and puts mothers in insurmountable legal debt. It also discourages pregnant folks from seeking pre-natal care if they fear being reported and arrested, which negatively impacts the health of a baby. Realizing a future where reproductive justice prevails means overhauling the court system to act as an agent of support and assistance for families instead of dissolving them, as it often does now.

Not only this, but “the law” is often antagonistic to very specific communities, including people of Color, immigrants, and the queer and trans* community. In another conference session about “radical lawyering,” we discussed the nitty-gritty of what it means to pursue a career in law while also employing a reproductive justice framework. How does one navigate being a member of one or many of these disenfranchised communities while also being a part of a legal system that actively targets said communities? The answers are unclear, and it is often personally difficult, as the panelists detailed while sharing their own narratives about law school and lawyering.

While the courts are often hostile to reproductive justice, they also are not going to disappear any time soon. Achieving wide-scale reproductive justice means eliminating the hostility of the courts towards marginalized communities and repairing the damage done by years of oppression. While this is a tall order, some measures – like registering folks in marginalized communities to vote and thus entering them into jury pools, restoring voting rights to felons, and diversifying judicial appointments – are achievable now.

Discussions of reproductive justice are incomplete unless they also include analyses of the courts’ role in society and communities. All too often, the courts have been a source of hostility and violence towards women, people of color, and the queer community. We must include a re-envisioning the courts in our reproductive justice activism in order to make our society more just for every body.

Image of Purvi Patel from The Independent.