High stakes in Supreme Court battle demand that the American people have a say

This article, written by NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Executive Director Tara Romano, originally appeared in NC Policy Watch.

As we begin the third contest over a U.S. Supreme Court appointment since 2016, it’s apparent to more Americans that unelected lifetime appointments to our highest court represent more than just partisan insider political battles. The decisions made at the nation’s highest court can and do affect our everyday lives, and in a democracy we should have a say in these appointments.

Typically that say is in the form of voting for the elected officials who control these appointments – president and senators. And that say is what is being denied to us less than six weeks before an election by a cynical and hyper-partisan rush to cement outdated, unpopular ideological views on the Court for generations to come.

Many of us who admired Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her lifetime of work for gender equality were devastated at her passing. A giant in legal jurisprudence, Americans barely had time to digest the news when plans for rushing through her replacement began. We’ve heard enough promises from the president to his supporters to know that these plans are about legitimizing policies that will harm large segments of people living in this country — people who have often been excluded from seats of power in our government. This rushed replacement is an effort to use the highest court to roll back the gains made in reproductive rights, access to health care, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights, workers rights and civil rights.

Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in this country, is probably one of the more well-known court cases to many Americans, often brought up during elections and political debates. The precedent set in that case has long been the target of lawmakers and others opposed to abortion, even if overturning that precedent is unpopular with the vast majority of Americans (as it is with the vast majority of North Carolinians).

While Roe v. Wade has never been enough to ensure equitable access to abortion no matter one’s income, age or geographic location, it is an important precedent for ensuring people aren’t treated as criminals for seeking abortion care — though, as reported by the Guttmacher Institute, it hasn’t stopped some irresponsible officials from attempting (or issuing threats) to take such action. We should be building on that precedent to move toward a society that is supportive of whatever decision people make in regards to their reproductive lives. Instead, we are facing a potential conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court that, at the very least, will continue to chip away at the rights established in Roe, if not completely obliterate them.

We all should be clear that a vote to overturn Roe v. Wade is a vote to re-criminalize a common healthcare procedure that nearly 1 in 4 American women have accessed in their lifetimes. And like all abortion restrictions, the consequences of that criminalization will fall hardest on the communities that have traditionally been sidelined in our country, such as communities of color, people of low income, immigrant communities, young people, rural communities and the LGBTQ community.

Access to abortion is not all that is at stake in at this moment. U.S. Supreme Court decisions also impact:

  • Access to birth control that is comprehensive, affordable and free from interference from our employers, our doctors and anyone else who thinks they should have a say (see Hobby Lobby v Burwell and Little Sisters of the Poor v PA for recent examples of that right being curtailed).
  • Access to affordable pre- and post-natal care, to screenings for cancer and sexually transmitted infections, and to accessible healthcare for domestic and sexual violence survivors. Even the practice of considering gender a pre-existing condition could make a comeback (the Court is set to hear a case that could dismantle the Affordable Care Act one week after the election).
  • The right to bear and raise children in a healthy and safe environment, which includes freedom from forced and coerced sterilizations (Buck v Bell, 1927, is a notorious Court case that upheld forced sterilizations).
  • The protection of people’s right to access abortion care free from harassment and intimidation (McCullen v Coakley punted on protecting that right).

This is just a small sample of how the rulings of the Court might affect Americans, and it’s why voters must be allowed to have our say before any nomination moves forward. The particulars of who the nominee is are irrelevant; anyone on this President’s short list of ideologically-vetted judges would have been a partisan operative out of touch with the majority of Americans. Like Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, this nominee will have an asterisk by her name in the historical record indicating a compromised nomination process. This is what the majority of Americans have said they want to stop – this rushed, undemocratic, power grab of a process.

The right to plan, grow and structure our family as we see fit is a human right. No court, including the U.S. Supreme Court, should be telling us otherwise. What all courts have is the responsibility to protect our human rights. We’ve been fortunate to have past justices like Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and current justices like Sonia Sotomayer, to bring in the voices of the marginalized to say we all deserve equal protection under the law. To save the Court from further eroding into an illegitimate, rubber stamp institution that codifies corruption and oppression, we have to stop this process until the people have voted.

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