Christina Lee, Photography Editor

Three years ago, Erin Morrow Hawley LAW ’05 was hired by the conservative Christian legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization “committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, marriage and family, parental rights and the sanctity of life.” 

When Hawley joined the ranks of the ADF, the group was involved in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the case that challenged the constitutional right to abortion. Hawley worked with the ADF to argue against abortion rights, which were presented before the Supreme Court later that year. The following June, in an opinion authored by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito LAW ’75, the Court sided with the ADF, overturning nearly five decades of legal precedent established by Roe v. Wade.

Hawley, who currently serves as senior counsel and vice president of the Center for Life and regulatory practice at the ADF, is today at the forefront of the next major abortion case to reach the Supreme Court. The case, FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, seeks to further restrict access to abortion. Hawley, who serves as the head counsel in the case, argued on behalf of anti-abortion doctors at the Supreme Court on March 26 that the abortion pill, which was approved more than two decades ago, was not properly approved for pregnancy termination by the FDA and is, therefore, a danger to women.  If the Court sides with Hawley’s team, it could potentially limit access to the abortion pill nationwide.

“She’s one of the more prominent attorneys in the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has become in the past three or four years, the most influential litigator of reproductive rights cases,” Mary Ruth Ziegler, a law professor at the UC Davis School of Law and expert of the politics of reproduction, told the News. “She’s shaping a lot of cases in a very short window and she’s been sort of the front person for a lot of those cases.”

Hawley’s legal journey

Hawley began her law school journey at the University of Texas in Austin, but her time there was short-lived. Encouraged by a professor, she decided to transfer, and the following year, she was accepted to and attended Yale Law School. 

At Yale, Hawley excelled, serving as a senior editor of the Yale Law Journal and as a Coker Fellow for constitutional law professor Paul Kahn GRD ’77 LAW ’80. Coker Fellows are third-year law students who assist professors in teaching and working with first-year law students.

At the Law School, Hawley met her future husband, Republican senator and former president of Yale’s chapter of the Federalist Society Josh Hawley LAW ’06, who was the year behind her. At the time, however, they did not know each other well, she said in a 2023 interview.

“They didn’t really know each other, it sounds like, in law school,” Irina Manta ’03 LAW ’06, a law professor at Hofstra University who attended Yale Law School at the same time as the Hawleys, told the News. “She was not as involved as he was with the Federalist Society generally.”

Manta, who was also an active member of the Federalist Society and identifies as politically idiosyncratic, told the News that she does not recall seeing Hawley at many Federalist Society events and noted her relatively quiet demeanor. She said that she primarily got to know Hawley through a reading group she organized. Manta added that during that period, there were few openly socially conservative women, so Hawley’s views were not widely known.

In an email to the News, an ADF spokeswoman, who spoke on Hawley’s behalf, said that Hawley was “moderately” involved with the Federalist Society.  She said that Hawley appreciated the Federalist Society because it “encouraged robust discussion and debate among those with differing viewpoints.” 

Manta said that though she is in “much disagreement” with Hawley’s work on the abortion cases, she remembers her as a pleasant person based on their interactions in law school.

“She was very, very nice,” Manta told the News. “You will hardly find someone who will have bad things to say about her from her time in law school.”  

In contrast, Manta described Josh Hawley as “always a politician,” with a profile that seemed fitting for a future senator. Manta ran against Josh Hawley for president of the Federalist Society but was unsuccessful in her bid.

After law school, Hawley clerked for then-Judge John Roberts of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. However, her clerkship was cut short later that year, when Roberts was appointed by then-president George Bush ’68 to the Supreme Court.  In an article published by the News in 2005, Law School students pointed to Hawley as an example of “a Yalie working hands-on in the government” due to her clerkship with Roberts.

Hawley went on to clerk for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III ’67 of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and would later receive another offer to clerk for Roberts at the Supreme Court. There,  she shared an office with Josh Hawley, who also received a clerkship offer from Roberts. 

“He likes to take credit for our marriage,” Josh Hawley said of Roberts in a 2023 interview alongside his wife.

The Hawleys married in 2010, only two years after they got to know each other during their clerkship. They soon searched for jobs and ended up being hired by the University of Missouri Law School.  At Missouri, Erin Hawley taught agricultural and tax law and constitutional litigation.

It was during this time that Hawley gained more experience in constitutional litigation. She would often write amicus briefs, a statement by an individual or group who is not a party to the case but wants to provide the Court with additional information. She wrote a notable brief for Burwell v. Hobby Lobby in 2014  in favor of the organization’s owners, who refused to offer contraception coverage to their employees for religious reasons. The Court, in a narrow 5-4 opinion authored by Justice Alito, sided with Hawley.

In 2018, Josh Hawley was elected to the Senate, and the couple moved to Washington D.C. There, Erin Hawley worked part-time for the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, whom she had helped write briefs for at Missouri. Three years later, Hawley was hired by the ADF and helped the group overturn Roe v. Wade. 

“I think her influence really accelerated after the overturning of Roe because there are a lot of different anti-abortion groups that compete for funding and power but the ADF’s influence has increased, in part because they just have so much money compared to a lot of other anti-abortion groups with a huge, huge budget and huge annual revenue,” Ziegler told the News. “Being the group that wrote the law and defended the case that overturned Roe v. Wade obviously puts your name on the map.”

FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine

On March 26, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, a case pivotal to the regulation of mifepristone, an abortion medication drug initially approved by the FDA in 2000. Seven years later, the FDA introduced the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies program, enabling the agency to mandate certain safety protocols for medications with significant safety concerns.

In 2011, mifepristone underwent a REMS review which allowed its access to expand by 2016, granting doctors and medical practitioners the authority to prescribe it. Later, in April 2021, the FDA permitted the distribution of mifepristone through mail, followed by the approval for select pharmacies to dispense it by January 2023.

However, following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022, many groups challenged the constitutionality of access to mifepristone.  The Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, a group of anti-abortion doctors, claims that the abortion pill is a danger to women’s health. 

“Women should have the ongoing care of a doctor when taking high-risk drugs. The FDA betrayed women and girls when it unlawfully removed the necessary in-person doctor visits that protected women’s health and well-being,” Hawley said before the case’s oral arguments. “The FDA’s own label for abortion drugs says that roughly one in 25 women who take them will end up in the emergency room. Yet the federal government continues to defend its reckless actions that jeopardize women’s health and safety. Women deserve better, and we look forward to advocating on their behalf at the Supreme Court tomorrow.”

At oral arguments, Hawley argued that doctors cannot provide standard miscarriage care in emergency situations due to the potential that the patient had taken prior abortion medication. She suggested that her clients would be complicit in the abortion by removing fetal tissue, an argument that Dara Kass, an emergency medicine physician at the Columbia University Medical Center, described as “flawed and scientifically unsubstantiated.”

Kass told the News that it is impractical for physicians to determine whether or not a patient took abortion medication during emergency care and that the care these doctors would provide has no relation to an abortion.

“From a physician’s perspective, because of the way that mifepristone came to American knowledge and because of the anti-abortion advocates, the FDA actually went further, longer and did a more extensive evaluation before the approval of mifepristone than it did for any medication that would have had the same level of research and support,” Kass told the News. 

She told the News that when mifepristone received FDA approval for expansion, it was supported by extensive data confirming that it is “extraordinarily safe and effective.” 

Kass noted that for individuals seeking to restrict access to abortion, this evidence of safety undermines their argument. This is because mifepristone enables patients to experience a miscarriage at home without needing to visit a clinic. Therefore, anti-abortion lawyers have sought alternative arguments against mifepristone that do not directly address the medication’s safety and effectiveness, she said.

She pointed out another argument Hawley made during the Supreme Court proceedings. Hawley mentioned the right of doctors to conscientiously object, allowing them to refuse to provide certain treatment based on their moral beliefs. According to Hawley, doctors may find it difficult to exercise this right in cases of miscarriages if they cannot determine whether the patient took mifepristone during an emergency.

Kass said that Hawley is proposing to remove mifepristone from the market to address her clients’ concerns regarding potential ambiguity. However, according to Kass, the logical step would be to not assign those doctors to cases of miscarriage.

“Her lawyering is offensive to doctors,” Kass said.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson made the same point at the oral arguments, saying there was “a mismatch” between what the anti-abortion doctors claim to be experiencing and the remedy they hope to receive from the Court. 

“The obvious common-sense remedy would be to provide them with an exemption, that they don’t have to participate in this procedure,” said Jackson.

Ziegler told the News about another argument Hawley put forth, which centered around a rarely enforced 19th-century law known as the Comstock Act. This law classified contraceptives as “obscene, lewd, or lascivious,” making it a federal offense to distribute them through mail or across state lines. Ziegler said that Hawley argued that this law essentially criminalized the mailing of any abortion-related item. According to Ziegler, some of the conservative justices displayed an interest in exploring the concept of the Comstock Act as a potential ban on abortion.

However, the Court overall reacted to Hawley’s case with skepticism. Many of the justices questioned whether there was even standing in this case, because the anti-abortion doctors needed to show they faced moral harm from mifepristone being on the market despite not being the ones who would prescribe the pill. In addition, a court has never second-guessed an FDA-approved drug and the decision could have major implications on the process for drug approval by the FDA if the Court were to side with the ADF.

When asked by the News for further comment on Hawley’s argument, the ADF spokeswoman pointed to their website for more information.

Connecticut’s politicians weigh in

On the day of the oral arguments, several of Connectcut’s leaders publicly condemned this case being brought to the Supreme Court. 

“Mifepristone has been safely and effectively used for decades as part of essential reproductive care,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 said in a March 26 tweet. “Today, radical Republicans are asking SCOTUS to overrule FDA’s scientific judgment & limit access to medication abortion in all 50 states. If they succeed, patients will suffer.” 

According to statistics from Connecticut Attorney General William Tong’s office, in 2021, there were 9562 abortions performed in Connecticut. Of those, nearly 64 percent were medication abortion using mifepristone.

In 2022, the News reported that Connecticut was a “safe haven” for patients seeking abortions, meaning that when the Supreme Court allowed states to determine their abortion laws, elected officials and abortion clinics in Connecticut promised to keep access to safe abortions in the state.

Last year, Connecticut leaders made contingency plans for a potential mifepristone ban when the case was still before lower courts.

Though this case aims to contest access to mifepristone nationwide, Connecticut’s leaders reaffirmed their dedication to ensuring access to abortion in the state.

“Today, if you need an abortion, if you need reproductive healthcare, if you need to see a doctor or nurse or a healthcare provider, you can do that [in Connecticut],” Tong said at a March 26 press conference. “Connecticut’s healthcare system is there for you.”  

Overall, the outcome of Hawley’s work in this case will hold significant implications for Connecticut and the nation’s access to mifepristone. 

A decision is expected to be released in June.

“What it looks like is going to happen is that she’s going to lose this case and then seed arguments for the future,” Ziegler told the News.

Hawley is scheduled to return to the Sterling Law Building for an event co-hosted by Yale’s chapter of the Federalist Society and Jus Vitae on April 9.

Adam Walker is the University Editor of the Yale Daily News. He previously covered Yale Law School for the University desk. Originally from Long Island, New York, he is a rising junior in Branford College double majoring in Economics and American Studies.