summer 2005
table of contents
Articles Online

Social InSecurity
Bad and Good News for Title IX
Female Pundits Missing
Radical Muslim Prayer
Hip Hop and Feminism


Rwandan Women Lead Rebirth
Saudi Feminist Princess
French Women Do Get Fat
Networking Corner

Cover Story
Urgent Report: What’s at Stake if We Lose the Supreme Court

Public Triumphs, Private Rights
| Ellen Chesler
The Polls Speak: Americans Support Abortion | Celinda Lake
Talking Points: Judges and Filibusters | Kathy Bonk
Five Rights Women Could Lose | National Partnership for Women and Families
An Unlikely Feminist Icon | Review by Ann Blackman of Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun's Supreme Court Journey

More Features

The Green Motel | Rebecca Clarren
The Dialectic of Fat | Catherine Orenstein
Hanan Ashrawi: Creating a Common Language | Rebecca Ponton
Still Carrying the Torch | Emily Dietrich


Summersgate | Lisa Wogan

Power Plays | Martha Burk

A Shot Against Cervical Cancer
| Mary Jane Horton

Portfolio: Zana Briski | John Anderson

She Who Once Was | Rebecca McClanahan

Hollywood Producer Orders Up a Sunset | Aleida Rodríguez
| Eloise Klein Healy

Deja New | Lee Martin

Andrea Dworkin | In her own words

Book Reviews
Celeste Fremon on Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas’ Promises I Can Keep
Michele Kort on Johnette Howard’s The Rivals: Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova
Susan Straight on Alia Mamdouh’s Naphtalene: A Novel of Baghdad
Sarah Gonzales on Isabel Allende’s Zorro
Samantha Dunn on Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation

Plus: Great Reads for Summer

Run, Sisters, Run! | Donna Brazile

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  FEATURES | summer 2005

Ms. Urgent Report
Five Rights Women Could Lose

While many of us like to assume that our rights will always be secure, the stark reality is that many hard-won protections hang by a thread — and that thread, metaphorically, is attached to the robe of a Supreme Court justice. Here are five rights that, with an ultraconservative Supreme Court, we would stand to lose:

1. Reproductive privacy
The constitutional right to reproductive privacy, embodied in Griswold v. Connecticut (see "Public Triumphs, Private Rights" ) and then expanded in Roe v. Wade, has withstood 30-plus years of attack. By a narrow majority, the Court has upheld this fundamental right and rebuffed numerous efforts to overturn its decisions.

Most recently, in Stenberg v. Carhart (2000), the Court invalidated a state law that criminalized late-term abortion procedures, even when necessary for preserving the health of pregnant women. The state law could also have outlawed the most common abortion procedures used during second-trimester pregnancies.

With the addition of just one anti-choice justice, the Court could overturn not only this decision but Roe v. Wade, and even possibly Griswold.

2. Affirmative action
Affirmative-action programs have been invaluable tools for expanding opportunities for women and minorities, remedying discrimination and bringing much-needed diversity to America’s institutions.

In a series of 5-4 decisions, the most recent being Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), the Court has upheld the use of affirmative action to achieve these goals. The replacement of one justice could effectively bring affirmative-action measures to an end.

3. Protection against gender-based discrimination
Since the 1970s, the Court has made clear that we should look closely at laws treating women and men differently, or excluding women from opportunities and benefits.

In recent years, the Court has teetered between supporting and discouraging gender-based protections. In United States v. Virginia (1996), it struck down a males-only admissions policy that discriminated against women, but in Nguyen v. INS (2001), the Court reinforced gender-based stereotypes by allowing different rules for fathers and mothers when establishing citizenship for children born abroad. The change of one or two justices could resurrect and solidify the Court’s acceptance of harmful gender stereotypes.

4. Family and medical leave
More than 50 million Americans have used the federally mandated unpaid leave granted by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for a seriously ill family member or spend time with a new baby.

But a crucial 2003 case in which the Court ruled that state employees could challenge their employers for violating their right to FMLA ( Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs ) was decided by just a 6-3 margin. A change of two justices could undermine FMLA protections in the future.

5. Quality health-care services
By a slim 5-4 margin in the 2002 case Rush Prudential HMO Inc. v. Moran, the Court upheld an Illinois law permitting independent review of an HMO’s decision to deny a treatment it didn’t consider “medically necessary.”

The Court agreed that patients have the right to have an independent panel of doctors review an HMO’s decision about medical necessity. Just one other dissenting opinion would cost millions of Americans a key patient protection that helps ensure good medical care.


Adapted with permission from the National Partnership for Women & Families.

More from Ms.' Urgent Report:
Read Ellen Chesler's story on what Estelle Griswold and Margaret Sanger risked to help women gain access to birth control and abortion — and how just one Supreme Court justice could take it away.
- Kathy Bonk proposes "talking points" for how to frame the debate on federal judicial appointments.
- Pollster Celinda Lake looks at the numbers : The majority of Americans support a woman’s right to a legal abortion, as they have for the past 15 years.
- Ann Blackman reviews Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun’s Supreme Court Journey by Linda Greenhouse.

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