Today, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the Trump administration the go-ahead to implement its dangerous attempt to allow bosses to deny (opens in new tab) their employees birth control coverage. The decision comes just after the Court handed down its ruling in June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, striking down (opens in new tab) Louisiana’s anti-choice clinic shutdown law.
That case was a narrow victory for access to abortion in Louisiana, but prompted headlines sounding the alarm about the impact of the case on the critical 2020 election, thanks to renewed interest in the courts and their impact on reproductive rights. Together, these two cases underscore the dire threat that President Donald Trump poses to both reproductive freedom and the integrity of the federal judiciary at large. But it may not be the threat you think.
You see, Trump is no visionary when it comes to undermining our fundamental freedoms. In truth, he’s nothing more than a puppet in the radical Right’s decades-long scheme to curtail democracy and lock in white patriarchal power by advancing their agenda through a takeover of our nation’s courts. It’s that threat—the ultra-conservative, mostly white cohort of activists indiscriminately wielding disinformation to push their dangerous ideology and gain more power—that we must understand and fight against by electing champions for reproductive freedom up and down the ballot this November.
When the Court upheld the Trump administration’s reckless attacks on contraceptive access, the radical Right got their way, with far-reaching ramifications for our fundamental rights. When the Right and their puppets in elected office go after birth control in the first place, they show their hand. It’s clear what their unpopular agenda is really about: gaining more power, controlling women, and maintaining the white patriarchal status quo. Make no mistake, our reproductive freedom is in peril.
To be sure, the Court’s decision striking down Louisiana’s clinic shutdown law in June Medical Services was a win for reproductive freedom in the United States and for the people of Louisiana who will, at least for now, maintain access to the time-sensitive and essential care they need. Had the anti-choice majority on the Court allowed the state’s medically unnecessary clinic shutdown law to go into effect, the consequences would have been catastrophic for abortion access in the state. Thanks to a web of anti-choice restrictions access there is already severely restricted— especially for those with low-incomes and for Black and Brown communities who disproportionately face barriers to care. With fewer than a handful of clinics remaining in the state, had any been forced to shut down, getting an abortion in Louisiana would have become a near impossibility for many.
While the outcome in June Medical Services LLC v. Russo was made possible by Justice John Roberts siding with the majority, it’s obvious that he is not on our side. He even noted that he still disagreed with the 2014 decision in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt in which the Court ruled an identical clinic shutdown restriction in Texas was unconstitutional.
These cases show us that while we may sometimes see small victories designed to placate us, we cannot become complacent. After all, Roberts in his concurring June Medical Services opinion left the door open for anti-choice, anti-freedom politicians to redouble their efforts to undermine access to abortion care. And Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s two Court picks, showed us exactly where they stand when they voted against our fundamental rights in both cases. We don’t need any more proof to know the threat these justices pose to reproductive freedom.
These cases in many ways encapsulate the moment we find ourselves in. The radical Right’s use of abortion as a trojan horse to provide cover for the right-wing agenda to curtail democracy is far from over. As I explain in my new book, The Lie That Binds, co-authored with NARAL Pro-Choice America Research Director Ellie Langford, this is an untold story that we desperately need to hear. There’s so much at stake and we have to look at the threats with eyes wide open in order to counter this insidious decades-long campaign undermining our fundamental freedom.
The radical Right has played a long game, creating an infrastructure through conservative groups like the Federalist Society (opens in new tab) that have allowed them to work doggedly and systematically for decades to covertly stack the federal judiciary and take over the Supreme Court. We could be dealing with the dire repercussions of the lifetime judicial appointments they orchestrated for decades. Which is exactly why we must step up and put an end to it.
While all of our rights are on the line, this is acutely true for women and communities of color. Women of color always suffer more (opens in new tab) from injustices and oppressions, reproductive and otherwise. Which is why white women who care about reproductive freedom have a responsibility to work harder than ever to acknowledge the embedded racism in these attacks and redouble our efforts to make 2020 count.
As Americans who cherish our democracy and our freedom, this year’s election matters more than any other so far in any of our lifetimes. We must not only defeat Trump, who is the living embodiment of the deal with the devil made by the anti-choice movement, but flip the Senate and take Mitch McConnell's gavel away.
We must vote out the politicians who rubber-stamped Trump’s agenda, like Sens. Susan Collins, Thom Tillis, Joni Ernst, Cory Gardner, Lindsey Graham. They must know that their votes to confirm Kavanaugh to the Court and solidify an anti-choice, anti-freedom majority on the bench sealed their fate. And by taking back these seats, we can work to pass critical federal legislation like the Women’s Health Protection Act and the EACH Woman Act that will protect and expand our reproductive freedom.
The ruling in this week’s birth control case made clear that we can’t rely on the Supreme Court to protect reproductive freedom. And while the decision in June for Medical Services v. Russo offered us a small moment of reprieve from the relentless attacks on reproductive freedom, what it also gave us is the chance to fight another day. That day is coming this November.
Ilyse Hogue is the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, where she has led the organization in the fight for reproductive freedom since 2013. Under her leadership, NARAL has become an organizing powerhouse—tripling its membership to 2.5 million, advancing state and federal legislation to protect and expand abortion access, and fighting an unprecedented wave of abortion bans at the state level. Her commentary has been featured in The Washington Post, HuffPost, The Nation, and ELLE. Ilyse is also the author of The Lie that Binds, a narrative of how the formerly non-partisan issue of abortion rights was reinvented as the sharp point of the spear for a much larger movement bent on maintaining control in a changing world.
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