Welcome to The Week in Reproductive Justice, a weekly recap of all news related to the hot-button issue of what lawmakers are allowing women to do with their bodies!
Last weekend, alleged sexual abuser Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed for a lifetime appointment on the United States Supreme Court. It’s impossible to overstate the implications of his confirmation, which, contrary to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s characteristically thoughtful commentary, will not simply “blow over” in a couple weeks.
The cultural impact of broadly dismissing the very existence of survivors in this country—and perhaps the judicial impact of having two alleged sexual predators on the Supreme Court, should a case involving sexual violence ever reach the court—will be nothing if not long-lasting, but there’s another reason Kavanaugh’s confirmation can’t simply “blow over” for the growing majority of Americans who aren’t straight, white men. While Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing may have lasted an infuriatingly short amount of time, for the next few decades, he’ll decide the rulings that govern the most fundamental human rights of women, people of color, immigrants, and LGBTQ people.
In other words, the confirmation of Kavanaugh to replace a key swing vote on the court has the potential to affect most Americans—and more likely than not, for the worst—for a lifetime. From the moment Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement this summer, reproductive rights groups hit the ground running in raising awareness about the potential, grisly fate of abortion rights in this country, and doubly working to fight Kavanaugh’s nomination and preemptively prepare for attacks on health care.
Credible and deeply concerning allegations against Kavanaugh steered attention to the incredibly important issue of sexual violence, which is in itself connected to reproductive justice, but now that he has been confirmed anyway, perhaps it’s time for us to revisit where this places reproductive rights.
As much as I wish I could provide some comfort, put simply, the situation is bleak. For all the accusations directed at women, allies and reproductive justice activists for “fearmongering” and “exaggerating” what Kennedy’s resignation would mean for abortion rights, by liberal and conservative media alike, this is where we are now: There are 13 cases about abortion that could potentially end Roe v. Wade, already in the judicial system.
Less than two years into his presidency, Donald Trump has appointed roughly one-eighth of all circuit court judges, the vast majority of whom are anti-choice. These judges will either uphold stringent restrictions on abortion passed by state legislatures (more than a quarter of all 1,200 or so anti-abortion laws passed since Roe were enacted between 2011 and 2016 alone), or potentially pass these cases onward to the Supreme Court. At this level, an anti-choice majority on the bench could easily uphold draconian, dangerous restrictions on abortion or other key reproductive health care, or reject the precedent of Roe altogether.
To put Kavanaugh’s confirmation in context with the precariousness of Roe v. Wade, Kavanaugh has gone on the record in praise of the dissenting opinion in Roe, and while on the D.C. Circuit Court, he voted in favor of the Trump administration’s right to hold hostage a pregnant, undocumented minor who was seeking abortion care. Similarly, Kavanaugh has ruled in favor of insurers and employers’ right to discriminate against and deny birth control coverage to women, in order to protect the “religious freedom” of employers. Funny that his ruling had nothing to say about religious freedom in terms of women employees being denied health care for not practicing and living according to the religious values of their employers.
Further, in an angry tirade before the Senate last month, Kavanaugh seemed to suggest he would exact vengeance on those who had treated him so unfairly. And so, while we know he’s perfectly capable of the spite and misogyny to fully reverse Roe, and this should not be taken lightly as a possibility, we should also remember that respecting Roe in name is not the same as respecting it in practice.
Without Roe, some 20 states have trigger laws that would automatically make abortion care illegal, but even if the precedent of Roe is never struck down, the court upholding restrictions that slash abortion access through burdensome financial, geographic, or other barriers would have essentially the same effect. The threat to Roe is real, and even if the decision itself isn’t technically reversed in the next few years, that doesn’t mean women and activists were lying or just being “hysterical.”
Comedian Samantha Bee summed up the situation aptly in a Full Frontal segment over the summer, when she said, “All Republicans have done for years is rail against abortion, and now suddenly we’re hysterical for taking them at their word?”
And in the absence of accessible reproductive health care, it’s no secret that women die. The rate of unsafe abortions spikes, people with unwanted pregnancies are forced to pay exorbitant amounts to travel out-of-state to access health care that is their human right, or they are left with no other choice but to carry to term. We’ve seen what a world without Roe looks like, and we see it today, in communities with shuttered access to reproductive health care like abortion. It brings me no pleasure to talk about the perilous reality of the future of reproductive rights, but perilous as it may be, we’re far from helpless.
Abortion funds across the country have been facilitating care for low-income and disproportionately people of color, LGBTQ people, and differently abled people in regions where Roe has never been more than a word. Groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America, which was founded prior to the Roe v. Wade decision, have been leading the fight to positively influence policy around abortion rights for decades, and so many other leading groups and activists across the country, from Planned Parenthood to the Center for Reproductive rights, have been fighting difficult-to-impossible odds for generations, and never backed down.
In addition to calling our representatives and demanding that they take action to protect reproductive rights, now is the time to support these groups in any way we can, whether through volunteering or donating any amount we can afford, sharing their content on our social media channels, and asking those in our lives to donate to or volunteer for these groups, which could soon be the difference between whether pregnant people live or die.
Tune in next week to see what lawmakers will try next in their never-ending mission to derail reproductive justice!
(image: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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