Date of Defense


Date of Graduation



Finance and Commercial Law

First Advisor

Lauren Foley

Second Advisor

Karl Hokenmaier

Third Advisor

Tyler Gibb


The Supreme Court of the United States functions as the highest judicial body in the country, with its decisions having the capability to reverberate change across the nation. Understanding why they make certain decisions has long been a point of scholarship, with multiple theories emerging as to what exactly influences their rulings. One such theory is the support structure, proposed by Charles Epp in The Rights Revolution (1998), which is a theory exploring how social movements influence litigation and the establishment of certain rights. This theory states that legal mobilization at the Supreme Court rests “on resources, and resources for rights litigation depend on a support structure of rights-advocacy lawyers, rights-advocacy organizations, and sources of financing” (Epp, 1998 p. 18). Essentially, Epp is proposing that support from the legal field, rights-advocacy organizations, and financing play a critical role in the mobilization of lawyers at the Supreme Court, and thus play a role in determining what information the Court receives on a case (and how they rule on it as a consequence).

Abortion rights is one of the most hotly contested areas of civil rights and liberties protections under the Constitution. Roe v. Wade was the start of a major shift in abortion jurisprudence, where the Court made the decision that abortion was a right afforded to women, one that could in part be regulated but not wholly stripped away. Planned Parenthood v. Casey stepped up as one of the next major challengers in this area, with regulations being dissected to determine whether their existence was constitutional. Some states have turned to the implementation of TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) to work around the ruling in Casey to preserve constitutionality while still implementing abortion restrictions. Abortion jurisprudence is a matter still playing out before the Court, with a decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health looming that could potentially overturn prior Court holdings.

The goal of this study is to apply Epp’s theory to an unexamined area of rights-advocacy: reproductive rights legislation. Specifically, this thesis will examine two cases, first to determine whether or not a support structure was present, then to look at how this support structure evolved over time. This study seeks to add to our understanding of the support structure theory by applying it to a specific subset of rights-advocacy cases, one which is still being debated by the Court. This project asks how the support structure has evolved over time by examining the legal support and rights-advocacy organizations in Casey v. Planned Parenthood and Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt under the lens of the support structure theory.

Access Setting

Honors Thesis-Open Access