|FEATURES | summer 2005
Hanging By A Thread:
What’s At Stake If We Lose
The Supreme Court
A battle rages in the U.S. over the “nuclear option” to eliminate Senate filibusters for judicial nominees. Make no mistake — the push for the nuclear option may focus today on federal circuit-court judges, but it paves the way for the Senate to rubber-stamp President Bush’s choices for the U.S. Supreme Court.
A replacement for ailing, 80-year-old Chief Justice William Rehnquist could be sought as early as this summer. Justice John Paul Stevens is 85 and two justices are in their 70s, so other retirements might follow. Bush could propose as many as three new Supreme Court justices before his term expires.
So what’s at stake for women in this battle over judicial nominees?
If the makeup of the Supreme Court shifts, women could lose most, if not all, of the constitutional gains we have made since the mid-1960s — and that includes the right to privacy.
As reproductive-health expert and Margaret Sanger biographer Ellen Chesler points out, in the first part of the urgent report in Ms. magazine, that right provides the basis for legal access to abortion and even birth control. Losing it could turn back the clock, as a series of intertwined decisions on reproductive rights would unravel.
If Roe v. Wade — last affirmed by a narrow 5-4 Supreme Court ruling — is reversed, legal dominion over abortion reverts to the states. Many of today’s state legislatures would ban abortion or even make it a criminal act.
Next, the radical right would probably push for limiting availability of contraceptives — first for teenagers, then for single women. Finally, they might try to withhold certain types of contraception from married women.
Pharmacists who say their religion forbids birth control are already refusing to fill contraceptive prescriptions. Will new, more conservative courts back them up?
But rolling back reproductive rights is only the first act in a nightmare scenario that could come to pass if right-wing judges take over the federal courts and the nation’s highest court. On Page 36, we point out four other crucial women’s rights that could easily be lost with the change of just one or two votes on the Supreme Court.
The majority of people in this country, men and women, do not want to go backward on women’s rights: The polls are clear on this, as preeminent national pollster Celinda Lake, who has followed reproductive-choice issues for more than two decades, points out on Page 37.
So what can you do? You can and must let your friends and community know what’s going on. Kathy Bonk, one of the nation’s leading feminist communication analysts and strategists, has outlined some concise talking points (see Page 38) that you can use to advocate for a federal judiciary that will preserve our cherished rights.
Don’t be left out of this debate. Women’s voices are needed in this fight — we have way too much to lose.