By Lucie Arvallo, J.D., If/When/How Reproductive Justice Fellow at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
Justice Brett Kavanuagh’s nomination hearings last fall angered, triggered, and galvanized people across this country concerned about ending sexual violence and advancing equality for all people, including abortion access. Reproductive justice advocates strongly opposed his confirmation, calling him a threat to civil rights, reproductive health, and democracy itself.
And now, one year later, the Supreme Court will be taking up the first abortion case since his confirmation, confirming our worst fears about the threat he poses. We believed then — and still do — that Justice Kavanaugh was nominated because conservative extremists trust him to rule against abortion. As a woman in the legal field, I knew Kavanaugh’s nomination was a setback, creating a ripple effect that would negatively impact the reproductive justice movement for decades to come.
Access to abortion care has been under nearly constant assault since Roe was decided in 1973. Over the past decade alone, anti-abortion politicians have passed more than 400 abortion restrictions, further pushing legal abortion care out of reach for many people with low-incomes, young people, and people of color. Vast areas of the United States have few or no abortion providers, and in seven states, only a single abortion clinic is left standing.
Justice Kavanaugh was nominated because conservative extremists trust him to rule against abortion.
Every day, I see the harm that abortion bans cause for people who already suffer because of health inequities in our country. Barriers to abortion aim to demoralize and stigmatize people seeking reproductive care, and increase the emotional, mental and financial strain on those who are already fighting to exercise their reproductive autonomy.
Over the past year, with two Trump appointees on the Court, attacks on contraception and abortion have escalated. Anti-abortion politicians, emboldened by two new justices who share their ideology, have abandoned the phony pretenses about health care they previously used to justify restrictions and are now openly seeking to ban abortion completely. Since January, 12 states, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and Ohio, have passed total or near-total abortion bans in some form. These laws are plainly unconstitutional under Roe — and that’s the point. Abortion opponents are hoping the Court will undo 45 years of precedent and make the extraordinary leap of taking away our constitutional rights. This goal is made even more apparent as an increasing number of states adopt “trigger bans,” which would prohibit most or all abortions if Roe is overturned.
At the same time we are fighting these abortion bans in court, the Trump administration’s domestic gag rule, which began taking effect in August, is cutting off access to contraception and reproductive healthcare for millions of people. The rule prohibits health care providers in the Title X family planning program from sharing information about abortion. People with low incomes, who lack insurance, or who may otherwise not have access to care will be disproportionately harmed, as they are by all anti-abortion restrictions. Two-thirds of the 4 million people served by Title X providers are currently living under the federal poverty level, and half are uninsured. For many of these individuals, Title X clinics are their only avenue for low-cost, comprehensive reproductive care, including contraception and STD screenings. Without these clinics, millions of people will have fewer, and less affordable options when seeking the care they need, further marginalizing communities that already face significant barriers to accessing reproductive health services.
Together with other reproductive justice lawyers and activists, I will continue to fight these restrictions in every state, creating our own ripple effect that will be impossible to ignore.
In addition to violating people’s basic rights to health and decision-making, these policies have dire consequences for people’s health and their families’ economic stability. Furthermore, abortion bans are not what the majority of people want. Seven out of ten Americans support access to safe, legal abortion care.
It should come as no surprise that work in the reproductive justice movement in the past year has not been easy. We are watching as a systematic and calculated effort to dismantle our constitutional rights and to end access to abortion unfolds – however, we are far from giving up. Although the goal of these abortion bans is to get the court to overturn Roe, we hope the court will respect the precedent it established more than 45 years ago and we will work vigorously for that.
In the face of these attacks on our bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom, we must be bold in our advocacy. We must continue to challenge anti-abortion politicians’ attempts to degrade our right to choose into a veiled legal fiction, so that we have the power to decide if, when, and how to create and define our families. Together with other reproductive justice lawyers and activists, I will continue to fight these restrictions in every state, creating our own ripple effect that will be impossible to ignore.
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