This month, solos Gregory Terra and Stephen Casey teamed up in a Houston family court to represent pro bono a 16-year-old pregnant girl, R.E.K., who sued her parents to stop what she alleged were their coercive tactics to get her to undergo an abortion.
It’s not the first time the two lawyers have worked together. They launched the nonprofit Texas Center for Defense of Life (TCDL) a little more than two years ago. It provides pro bono legal representation to individuals or organizations taking pro-life positions. Terra, a Georgetown solo, serves as the CEO and president of TCDL, and Casey, a Round Rock solo, is TCDL’s vice president and chief counsel.
But in this case, they’ve heard questions and calls for caution from others who share their pro-life beliefs, because they based their arguments in R.E.K’s petition on federal court rulings, including Roe v. Wade, which establish the constitutional right for a woman "to make her own reproductive decisions . . ." as described in their client’s petition filed Feb. 10.
Pro-life lawyers have told them, Casey and Terra say, that their use of pro-choice rulings might be used against pro-life advocates in another suit or open a door for diminishment of parental rights, another principle important to many in the pro-life camp.
But that doesn’t trouble them. "The legal arena is a battlefield. If my legal opponent drops a sword, I’m going to pick it up and use it. It’s a good move for us to redefine Roe v. Wade," Casey says.
In R.E.K.’s petition seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, she alleged that her parents removed her phone and her car and demanded that she get two jobs "because she was refusing to give in to their coercion to have an abortion."
In an answer filed Feb. 14, her parents denied the allegations and said that they would show R.E.K.’s cause of action was "groundless, frivolous and without foundation in fact."
On Feb. 18, 308th District Judge James Lombardino issued a final order stating that the parents "agree not to use physical force or psychological coercion towards R.E.K. in order to have her obtain an abortion." The order states the parents agree to give R.E.K. "irrevocable consent" to marry the father of her child, which she did on Feb. 19, Casey and Terra say.
"We got everything we wanted," Terra says.
George Clifton, a partner in Clifton Dodson Sortino in Tomball who represents R.E.K’s parents, writes in an email that the petition made allegations that were "by and large wholly untrue or gross distortions of the facts." Clifton notes that his clients agreed to the court order because it "basically agreed with their intentions all along."
Frustrated by what he characterizes as inaccurate accounts in the press about the case, Clifton writes: "No matter that nobody can legally force anybody to get an abortion. No matter that the parents never intended to force their daughter to get an abortion. No matter that the parents fully supported the daughter’s decision to carry the baby to term although they disapproved of how it all came to be. . . . But of course, that’s not the end of the story. The strangers swoop in and file a lawsuit on behalf of the girl — no charge, of course. The lawyers are free. Parents now have to hire a lawyer and pay to defend themselves while being pilloried in the press. . . . [T]he parents chose not to fight their daughter in court to try to provide some measure of privacy and let her get on with the life she has chosen. . . . There never was a case but it played well in the press."
Terra believes R.E.K’s case and the attention it has received might have long-term, far-reaching implications. He plans to promote legislation that will set criminal penalties for parents who coerce or force a daughter to have an abortion in Texas.