On Sept. 5, the Senate Judiciary Committee got its first chance to question Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump's latest nomination to the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh's nomination has stoked deep and justifiable concern for the future of key human rights issues, such as marriage equality, voting rights, healthcare access, criminal justice, and gun safety. But, most glaringly — in light of the Trump administration's deliberate agenda of derailing reproductive rights and years of Republican politicians unabashedly calling for the end of Roe v. Wade — Kavanaugh's nomination poses an existential threat to abortion rights in America. And you'd know this if you watched women senators on the Judiciary Committee question Kavanaugh this week. Their presence at the hearings has made it clear how absolutely indispensable representation in politics is in times like these.
Kavanaugh's record on reproductive rights includes siding with the Trump administration's right to block a detained young immigrant woman, Jane Doe, from accessing abortion; voicing support for the dissent in Roe; and ruling in favor of employers' right to deny women birth control access. In emails marked confidential that were released early Thursday by Sen. Cory Booker, Kavanaugh argued Roe isn't actually settled law, contrary to his public claims, and that the Supreme Court could "overrule its precedent" at any time.
On the first day of questioning, Sen. Kamala Harris, one of few women — and one of even fewer women of color — in the Senate, exposed the misogyny inherent to Kavanaugh's decision in the aforementioned Jane Doe case. Kavanaugh repeatedly evaded questions about Roe and reproductive rights asked by Senators Mazie Hirono and Dianne Feinstein, spurring Harris to eventually ask if he could name any laws "that the government has power to make over the male body." Visibly stumped by the question for some time, Kavanaugh finally answered that he could not, proving a crucial point about gender, abortion, and control that women know so well — a point that took a woman to get across so masterfully.
CSPAN has posted the entire nearly 8-minute exchange between Kamala Harris and Kavanaugh on the Mueller probe. It is worth your time. pic.twitter.com/ezJVEuDeUK
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) September 6, 2018
It's no secret that women politicians have been the most vocal critics of Kavanugh's record on reproductive rights. Outside of the Judiciary Committee and prior to this week's hearings, Sen. Patty Murray's office has collected stories, en masse, FROM women in America who have had abortions. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand have refused to mince words, and declared that not only will Roe be reversed or gutted if Kavanaugh is confirmed but that women will quite literally die as a result.
The Kavanaugh hearings, as well as the movement to reject Kavanaugh at large, show how impactful diverse leadership has been. Women have been the ones to ensure that the right questions are being asked and that attention is brought to crucial points in his record that would likely otherwise be ignored. Kavanaugh's record and potential on the court pose grave risks to the rights and safety of women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ+ people, and all marginalized groups. Our representatives who identify with these groups know what's at stake because of their own experiences. That's why they're the ones speaking up so vocally for us — and that's why we need more of them.
Sen. Booker, one of three black senators, demonstrated this when he questioned Kavanaugh regarding his buried record on race and criminal justice — before ultimately releasing the confidential emails the next day. Harris questioned Kavanaugh on the 2017 Charlottesville riots. Sen. Hirono, the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate, has been another key leader in questioning not only Kavanaugh's record on abortion rights but his views on Native people of Hawaii.
But when it comes to issues of women's rights specifically — despite the voices of politicians like Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who brought up the Jane Doe case during the hearings — we can only expect so much of male allies in office. Too often, reproductive rights are discussed tangentially or as a "social issue" — if they're even discussed at all in progressive spaces that are male-led.
It takes female representatives, who know from their experiences that reproductive rights are also about economic justice and violence against women's bodies, to speak as forcefully as Harris. It takes women like Sen. Feinstein to correctly remind Kavanaugh and the nation that 200,000 to 1.2 million women died of unsafe abortions annually in the 1950s and '60s before Roe.
Still, women like Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski may well vote to confirm Kavanaugh. A self-identified "liberal feminist" lawyer may support him and even introduced him to the Senate on Tuesday.
But this doesn't change the reality: a surge in restrictions on abortions in recent years has yielded a surge in maternal deaths in the US. It doesn't change the fact that restrictions on abortion fail to stop women from having abortions but will simply increase their risk of injury and death. It doesn't change the fact that one in four women has an abortion before turning 45. And it certainly doesn't change the fact that Harris, Feinstein, Hirono, Gillibrand, Warren, and all the vocal female leaders fighting Kavanaugh represent and speak for the majority of women — not only in the Senate, but in the United States of America.