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Jamil Smith: Beyond Brett Kavanaugh’s Past, We Must Consider the Future of Abortion

A new Planned Parenthood report paints a dark picture of reproductive rights if Kavanaugh is confirmed

Protesters in Seattle against Judge Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court nominee, 2018

Protesters demonstrate in Seattle against Judge Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court nominee.

Ted S. Warren/AP/Shutterstoc

For at least as long as Brett Kavanaugh has been nominated for a Supreme Court seat, he has been justifiably considered to be a potential danger to reproductive freedom. Since he represents a possible fifth and decisive vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, Kavanaugh poses a threat to the future of legal and safe reproductive health care, including abortions. However, the focus around Kavanaugh’s confirmation has been primarily on the multiple sexual misconduct allegations against him dating back to his high school and undergraduate years.

Appalling though the accusations may be, I understand why conservatives may prefer to talk about this scandal and not abortion. A July survey conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal indicated that 71 percent of American voters want Roe upheld. However, a more recent, surprising poll likely has the GOP’s attention: Only a slight majority of Americans polled by Quinnipiac after last Thursday’s hearings believe Christine Blasey Ford over Kavanaugh — 48 percent to 41, respectively.

This week, Planned Parenthood aims to shine light on the original reason that Kavanaugh’s nomination proved so frightening to progressives in the first place.

On Wednesday, the group will release a new “red alert” report concerning Kavanaugh and the impact that his confirmation could have on reproductive rights. In a draft of the report provided exclusively to Rolling Stone, Planned Parenthood indicates that 25 million women of reproductive age across America “are poised to lose access to abortion immediately if Kavanaugh is the fifth vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade.” The research, conducted by Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s State Policy team and the black women’s reproductive health organization In Our Own Voice, also reports that 20 states — including automatic-trigger states like Louisiana, Mississippi and both Dakotas — are poised to criminalize abortion if Roe is scuttled.

“Any person who has displayed hyper-partisan and aggressive behavior, and has serious allegations of sexual assault against him, should not be in a position to determine the health and constitutional rights of women for generations,” Planned Parenthood Action Fund executive vice president Dawn Laguens tells Rolling Stone in a statement.

Overturning Roe leaves the decision of whether to legalize abortion to the states. Several states are already offering a preview of that reality. The new report illuminates recent efforts to limit abortion access in advance of a Kavanaugh appointment, including an Arkansas restriction banning medical abortion and eliminating access to all but one abortion care center in the state. Other laws effectively prohibit abortion, and they wreak the most havoc in the lives of black, Hispanic and Native American women.

Black women are about twice as likely as white women to have an unintended pregnancy, the report states, and women of color use abortion services more often. They also have less access to overall health care services, not just abortion. In this respect, as with others, the report repeats facts that we have known for a long time — but ones that remain ignored by the Republicans pushing for Kavanaugh to be seated on the court.

“Women of color will be hit the hardest if Kavanaugh is confirmed,” In Our Own Voice founder and executive director Marcela Howell tells Rolling Stone. “The Senate must reject this nominee who will surely codify the racist, sexist policies of the Trump administration.”

Abortion is often the political elephant in the room: It is defended, yet rarely openly advocated for by Democratic politicians whose constituencies most need that form of health care. Despite their staunch advocacy for organizations like Planned Parenthood, Democrats could be even louder in their promotion of reproductive rights. The Kavanaugh nomination has provided that opportunity.

Kavanaugh’s partisanship and stark performance of entitled male anger last week only underscore the urgency to protect women’s rights. His behavior, both what has been alleged and what we have seen, may very well be as predictive of his future rulings in a case involving abortion as any decision he has previously handed down. The report warns that, if he is appointed, Kavanaugh “would likely rule on a pivotal abortion case in the next year.” It indicates that there are 29 total cases related to reproductive health that are “one step away from the Supreme Court” — 14 of which deal directly with abortion. That includes a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals case that rejected abortion restrictions in Indiana, and a similar law in my native Ohio that is currently being weighed by a Sixth Circuit judge. Kansas and Louisiana have asked the Supreme Court to review cases specifically involving Planned Parenthood.

Unlike any time since Roe was decided in 1973, the end of nationwide abortion rights is staring us right in the face. This report aims not merely to educate, but to provoke action. Abortion providers face threats not merely from the domestic terrorists and conservative politicians whom they regularly fend off, but now also from one man with a history of alleged misogyny — and unlike the man who nominated him, Kavanaugh will have this job for life. This moment begs for more than mere justification of a woman’s right to choose not to carry a fetus to term. It calls for open advocacy of the procedure itself. This report is a step in the correct direction.

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