US 2020 Election

A Trump win plus Amy Coney Barrett is a disaster for women’s rights

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This piece is part of a series from Backbench exploring the US 2020 presidential election. To have your say and share your opinions on this defining moment for the US, email your pitches and articles to editor@bbench.co.uk.

On 27th October, Amy Coney Barrett began her service in the Supreme Court after a vacancy opened following the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September. The vote passed 52-48 to approve Barrett, thus overcoming the Democrats’ unified opposition, and sealed a 6-3 majority for the conservatives on the top US judicial body.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who identifies as an originalist, is a favourable individual in the eyes of social conservatives because of her views on issues like abortion; her appointment is a setback for women’s rights. As the successor to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was a lifelong champion of women’s rights, Barrett refused to disclose whether she would uphold access to safe abortion, fertility treatment, and birth control throughout her confirmation hearings.

Leading fertility doctors spoke out against Barrett’s nomination, stating that it was ‘an undoing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s progress and an enduring step backwards for women’s individual liberty’.

Published in the leading fertility journal Fertility and Sterility, the doctors ended their statement by referring to Barrett’s previously stated positions which they argued would ‘severely hamper fertility treatments making them less effective and less safe’ and they fear that ‘reproductive healthcare would be set back many decades, endangering the families for which we care.’ This is the first time in the journal’s 70 year history that it has published a statement on the seating of a Supreme Court justice.

Ginsburg herself put it clearly when she once said that it is “essential to woman’s equality with man that she be the decision maker, that her choice be controlling. If you impose restraints that impede her choice, you are disadvantaging her because of her sex”. Her successor threatens the progress the late justice fought for and made throughout her life.

Justice Barrett openly opposes abortion and in 2006, along with hundreds of others, signed an anti-abortion advertisement which stated ‘We, the following citizens of Michiana, oppose abortion on demand and defend the right to life from fertilisation to natural death. Please continue to pray to end abortion.’ Then in 2013, Barrett signed an advertisement against Roe v. Wade that was published in Notre Dame’s student newspaper which described the ruling as having ‘killed 55 million unborn children’.

If Roe v Wade is overturned, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund has estimated that more than 25 million women ‘could lose access to safe, legal abortion’. We must remember that an attack such as this against bodily autonomy disproportionately affects women of colour as well as those who are financially disadvantaged. It is these women who are less able to travel for an abortion, risk losing employment if they’re pregnant, and are vulnerable to maternal mortality and morbidity.

It’s also important to note that it’s not just Roe v. Wade which is at risk, as paid leave, affordable childcare, voting rights, equal pay, racial justice, and LGBTQ+ equality have all been jeopardised.

Justice Barrett’s view on women’s reproductive rights, including those on abortion is a stark reminder that we as a society still have a long way to go in the fight to protect the right for women to make decisions over their own bodies. Women should be able to access contraception and abortion as a human right, and I worry as a woman that the choice could be taken away by those in charge.

As many have long pointed out, the outlawing of abortion doesn’t stop abortion, it only prevents abortions from being safe. The thought that we could go backwards and undo progress is something which should concern everyone, not just those in the United States.

Contraception should always be easily accessible, and Justice Barrett poses a threat to this. In 2012, she signed a letter opposing access to contraception, which is currently covered by the Affordable Care Act. Her appointment is part of an effort to rule over the will of the majority of American people. It’s important to remember that women have been the majority of voters in every national election since 1964, and also make up the majority of early votes and mail-in ballots.

President Trump and his administration have continuously shown disregard for women and have taken the stance that they are the ones who should have control over the bodies of women and girls. After being elected, one of the first acts of the Trump administration was to reinstate and expand the Mexico City Policy, which in essence, removes funding from foreign, non-governmental organisations which perform, make referrals for, and provide counselling on abortion or push for the liberalisation of abortion law.

It is undeniable that a second win for Trump would be another step back in the fight for women and their rights.

If re-elected, the Trump administration wishes to expand the Mexico City Policy. Not only this but in September, the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration published a proposed rule to extend the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy so it would apply to contracts.

The policy, which already includes cooperative agreements and global health grants, already applies to the State Department, the Department of Defence, Health and Human Services along with the US Agency for International Development.

Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment into the Supreme Court along with the Trump administration poses a threat to women’s autonomy and is a threat not to just the lives of women and girls across the United States, but the rest of the world too.

Cover image: The White House/Shealah Craighead via Flickr. Licence here.

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