Here’s what you can do to take a stand and protect reproductive rights.
With the way things have been going with POTUS over the last year, my method of mental survival around all things politics has been to pretty much swipe left on all my NYTimes news alerts. It’s just too much to think about 24/7, so in order to keep myself up to date on what’s happening in a way that doesn’t totally crush me, I have short periods of time where I scroll through Twitter or the NYTimes, usually about once a day.
But then last week happened: My NYTimes alert wasn’t something I could ignore - Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy was retiring.
At first, I didn’t even really know how to process the news. But over the next few days I continued to feel more and more overwhelmed about the impact this will have on our country, our lives, and specifically, access to reproductive healthcare for so many women in this country and the power to make our own decisions for our own bodies.
Over the last five years I’ve lived and breathed reproductive health: Fighting for access, trying to increase condom use, and destigmatizing everything from sex to abortion access. Since the Justice Kennedy news, I’ve been wondering how to keep fighting when things feel so out of our control. So I wanted to take a moment to break down what’s happening, what’s at stake, and how we can work to protect our reproductive rights in light of it all.
What You Need To Know
President Trump is planning to announce his nominee on Monday, July 9th, and his choice will likely have major consequences. Though Justice Kennedy was a Republican, appointed by president Reagan, he was often a swing vote on social issues. He helped legalize same-sex marriage in 2015, and voted to uphold Roe V. Wade, the ruling that made abortion legal nationwide, in 1992.
During the final presidential debate, Trump made his views on abortion painfully clear, saying: “The justices that I'm going to appoint will be pro-life. They will have a conservative bent.”
Over the past year, Republican members of congress have been passing pro-life legislature. In Iowa “the heartbeat bill” restricts abortion access when a heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as 6 weeks. Iowa senator Rick Bertrand is hoping this, as well as restrictive legislation in other states, is an opportunity to push the supreme court to overturn Roe V. Wade. "There's nothing hidden here about the agenda. You know, today the pro-life movement won a battle, but the war rages on,” he said.
This makes the announcement of Justice Kennedy’s retirement extremely worrisome to those of us who care about reproductive freedom. "The idea of Trump having his choice to fill another vacancy is terrifying for not only abortion rights, but for our ability to live free from discrimination in this country," Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.
It’s also worth noting, especially for pro-life people, making abortion illegal or hard to obtain doesn’t stop abortion, it just puts more lives at risk. A recent report from the Guttmacher institute shows that rates of abortion are actually slightly higher in countries where abortion is prohibited (or only allowed in life-threatening instances). Worldwide, at least 22,800 women die each year from complications during an unsafe abortion. The thought of going backwards and repealing something like Roe v. Wade in 2018 is so challenging to even wrap my head around. So, you might be thinking...
What Can We Do?
You might be wondering, like I am, what can we do to help ensure a justice is appointed that supports reproductive freedom.
Even though Trump chooses the Supreme court nominee, they have to be approved by the U.S. Senate. Right now, the Republican party holds the majority of the Senate, and for the nominee to be confirmed, they need a 51 to 49 majority vote. That means our fate is in the hands of Republican members of the senate, and our only hope is to change their minds about what kind of candidate should be appointed.
Short Term: Pick up that Telephone.
Elected officials are supposed to fight for the rights of its citizens, and the majority of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to this 2017 Pew Research Study. Two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have supported abortion rights in the past, and Collins said outright this past Sunday she would not support a nominee with an agenda to overturn Roe v. Wade. Murkowski said the nominee’s view of abortion rights would be something she considers, but not necessarily the deciding factor in her vote.
The Supreme Court justices don’t just serve a term like other politicians, they are there for life, which means their decisions affect generations to come. So we need to show our elected officials, especially those of the Republican party, what we believe in.
- Contact Your Representative: Let your representative know how you feel. If you are comfortable jumping on the phone, you can call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and an operator will connect you to your state representative. You can also look them up yourself here. If you don’t like talking on the phone, you can use Resistbot, which identifies your state representative and helps you craft a message to them, or sign this petition from Ultraviolet to block any nominee that would overturn Roe V. Wade here.
- Wondering What To Say? If you live in a Republican state, ask your representative to not let someone with extremist views onto the Supreme Court. If you live in a Democratic state, ask your representative to delay the choice until after midterm elections. It’s a long shot, but it’s worth it!
Long Term: VOTE!
Midterm elections are coming up on November 6th, and it’s imperative that Democrats take back congress, or there is the possibility that Trump will be able to decide another Supreme Court nominee (after all, Ruth Bader Ginsberg is 85 years old). Democrats need to flip at least two seats to gain majority in the senate and at least 24 to gain majority in the House of Representatives.
Republicans currently have a monopoly on all major political powers in the US. If we want to protect our right to reproductive freedom, now is the time to get politically active. The best way to do this is by getting informed on candidates and voting at every. single. election. If you aren’t already registered to vote, you can do so quickly and easily here.
And, if we learned anything in the last NY primary election a few weeks ago when 28-year old newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat out a long standing NY senator, every single vote matters. If we all raise our voices (and fill out our ballots) change is possible.
Each and every one of us has a voice, and the days of sitting on the sidelines are over. There is just too much at stake to sit back, not show up, not speak up, and not defend the hard-won rights women who have come before us fought for. The news may be daunting, but moments like these are when we all have the opportunity and responsibility to fight. As Dawn Laguens put so eloquently in her essay for Glamour, “Those in power don’t simply give us our rights. We have to demand them, and protect them. And sometimes, fight to get them back.” Whoever gets appointed may try and turn the clock back, putting millions of women’s health at risk. But over and over again we’ve proven that when we stand together, we are stronger together.
CEO, Sustain Natural
Since the original posting of this article, President Trump has announced his Supreme Court nominee: Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative federal appeals court judge. So where does he stand on reproductive rights?
In 2006, during his confirmation hearing, he said: “If confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, I would follow Roe v. Wade faithfully and fully. That would be binding precedent of the court.”
However, in an October 2017 appeals court case, he dissented the court’s decision to allow an undocumented 17-year-old girl to have an abortion while she was being held in government custody. He wrote: “The Government has permissible interests in favoring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor, and refraining from facilitating abortion.”
If you believe the government shouldn’t have “permissible interests” in choosing the life of a fetus over the bodily autonomy of a woman, contact your senators and tell them to block Kavanaugh from the Supreme Court.