ST. LOUIS — Not surprisingly, the Hawley name is on one of the most controversial cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, an effort from Mississippi that could restrict abortion rights and overturn Roe v. Wade.
But it’s not the Hawley doing a fist pump outside the U.S. Capitol. Not the one attacking Democrats on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
Rather, it’s Erin Morrow Hawley, the wife of U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who has been a key partner in his rise to power.
As senior counsel to the appellate team at Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF, a Christian legal advocacy group, she coordinated Supreme Court filings that helped bolster Mississippi’s effort to cap most abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy and, more broadly, potentially leave reproductive rights up to state legislatures across the land.
“This past year I have been blessed to have a front-row seat on this case,” Erin Hawley said in a keynote address in February at a Lincoln Days dinner in St. Charles. “As a conservative mother, I can tell you it has been the project of a lifetime.”
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After Josh introduced her as the working attorney in the family, she told the Republican gathering that she took the youngest of their three children, less than 6 months old at the time, on airplanes to Mississippi and other states to support the legal effort to restrict abortions. She said that included attending meetings “with some of the nation’s best lawyers.”
“It wasn’t always easy, but for me it has been a reminder every day of why this case matters,” she said of traveling with a baby in tow. “There was something so powerful, so tangible, so real about helping with this case, a case that can change abortion culture in this country and save countless unborn lives.”
According to public records, ADF brings in more than $75 million a year in contributions and grants per year. It exists to “facilitate an alliance of like-minded influencers from every sphere of the public square affecting law and culture, and to mobilize this alliance to protect the core values of religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, freedom of speech, and marriage and the family.”
ADF is perhaps most widely known in recent years for defending, free of charge, the Colorado baker who refused to make a cake celebrating a same-sex marriage.
Erin told the group in St. Charles that Mississippi lawmakers were right to restrict most abortions beyond 15 weeks because the baby can open and close fingers by then, hear its mother’s heartbeat. She said contraception has become universal in the nearly 50 years since Roe v. Wade was decided. Erin said abortion wasn’t mentioned in the Constitution, yet, to her, the Bible is clear in Psalm 139:
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
“This is the time,” she said, drawing applause. “This is the year that Roe must go.”
From Washington to Missouri — and back
The draft ruling on the Mississippi case, an exclusive story reported Monday by Politico, signaled that the Supreme Court was indeed poised to overturn Roe. While Josh called the information breach a “hit” on the esteemed institution, the conclusion — overturning Roe — is consistent with what he and Erin have long advocated. In Missouri, one of 13 states that have adopted so-called “trigger” laws tied to the end of Roe, most abortions would become illegal.
Conservative Christian values bond Josh and Erin together, according to an Apple podcast the couple recently participated in called “This is Living with Josh and Erin Hawley.” The podcast portrays them as laid-back, everyday parents in their early 40s trying to get by the best they can as a traditional family.
In one segment, Josh encouraged men to vent their frustrations to the Lord, not their spouses. Erin encouraged women and mothers to “make sure you focus on your husband.”
Erin grew up in New Mexico. She studied animal science at Texas A&M University. Josh, raised in Lexington, Missouri, went to an all-boys Jesuit high school in Kansas City. He studied history at Stanford. They overlapped at Yale Law School, but it was as law clerks for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in 2007 — the same chief justice that is reexamining Roe today — that they got to know each other.
“We literally shared an office, which meant Erin, you know, couldn’t escape,” Josh said in the podcast. “I got to talk to her the entire day.”
While their relationship blossomed at the high court, they tried to keep it a secret until after the clerkship. Both became appellate attorneys in Washington. Josh eventually proposed to Erin within view of the U.S. Capitol.
After that, they moved to Missouri, started a family. Both taught at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. And Josh launched his political career.
Religious freedom and reproductive rights laws have been main themes. That Josh was part of the legal team that won the Hobby Lobby case in 2014 resonated with conservative voters. The landmark decision exempted for-profit privately held corporations from being mandated to provide health care benefits to their employees that offer birth control. While Josh didn’t present the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, Peter Dobelbower, general counsel of Hobby Lobby, has said that he “provided unique insight into the arguments that made our case so successful.”
In 2016, Josh was elected to be Missouri’s attorney general. Just two years later, he won the U.S. Senate seat and the Hawleys returned to Washington.
‘Very, very bright and ambitious’
Along the way, Josh and Erin had a law firm, Hawley and Hawley. After Josh founded the Missouri Liberty Project in 2014, Erin wrote a U.S. Supreme Court filing for the now-defunct organization. Technically called amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” the filings are submitted by outside parties who seek to influence the court by offering a relevant perspective.
It was in this realm that Erin had the “front-row seat” in the Mississippi case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Erin recently said in a prepared statement to the Post-Dispatch that ADF “is proud to have worked closely with Mississippi officials” on the case, including coordinating amicus support at the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The U.S. is an extreme outlier in abortion law and policy, allowing late-term abortions and failing to protect the lives and health of unborn children and their mothers,” she said. “Because life is a human right, the Court should uphold Mississippi’s law protecting women and children and overturn the decision in Roe v. Wade.”
Michelle Williams, chief of staff for Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, said by email that ADF has been a “great partner to this office.”
“Erin Hawley is a skilled and experienced attorney and we are honored that she provided a solid sounding board to our team and a strong voice for empowering women and promoting life over the past year,” Williams said.
There are dozens of amicus briefs attached to the Mississippi case, many with different interpretations of what empowering women means. One, written for Olympic gold medalists and other high-performing female athletes, says “forced pregnancy and childbirth would undermine” the ability to “actualize their full human potential.” An attorney representing a slew of health care organizations argues that current abortion rights allow women to live longer, more healthful lives. Another argues that state powers are already used to violate women’s constitutional rights, and that the further consequences of overruling Roe “would be far-reaching and disastrous for all pregnant women.”
ADF wouldn’t say which amicus briefs Erin helped coordinate for the Mississippi case. Nor would the firm disclose her salary. Erin is also a legal fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, which paid her — the Hawley Law Firm — $185,000 in 2020, according to public records.
She has written several articles about why she thinks Roe should be overturned. She’s also weighed in on the selection of Supreme Court justices. Writing for Real Clear Policy in 2018, she said: “Democrats are right. Judge Brett Kavanaugh does have a jaw-dropping record with women — but it is one that should lead to women’s support.”
Jean Evans, former chairman of the Missouri GOP, said many people aren’t aware of Erin’s work.
“She’s got three kids,” Evans said. “I should say, they have three kids. I think of them as a power couple. They are both very, very bright and ambitious. They work together well and support each other well. They seem to have quite a strong partnership.”
While Josh spoke at the Lincoln Days event in February about fighting against the Democrats for the “soul” of America, Erin hit a similar theme regarding “the most important case of our lifetimes.”
“This is not merely a court case to win, but the heart of a nation to live,” she said.