Last month, we lost a trailblazer of United States history and a leader in the fight for gender equality. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a role model to so many women and girls who saw themselves in her and a vocal advocate for those whose voices often go unheard by a system determined to ignore them.
Her death, deeply felt by all those whose lives have been impacted by her legacy, is likely to set off a chain of political events leading up to the 2020 election that cannot and should not be ignored. Putting aside Mitch McConnell’s craven quest for complete conservative dominion over the courts, which is a very real threat to the integrity of our democracy and the rights of women, LGBTQ+ communities, immigrants and so many others, there is a deeper political context.
You have, I’m sure, heard often about the extremely high stakes of this election. Justice Ginsburg knew just how high the stakes are. It is why in her last days, she said that her “foremost wish” was to not be replaced until a new president could take office. Her request was effectively dismissed within an hour of the news of her passing by Senate Majority Leader McConnell. This is the same Mitch McConnell who denied even a vote on the appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama in 2016 because it was an election year.
In 2020, the fabric of American democracy hangs by only its tattered threads. We are in the midst of a deep and much-needed reckoning about the role of institutional racism in this country, the consequences of global warming are inescapable, and America remains in the grips of a pandemic that has been exploited and worsened by weak leadership in the executive branch while much of the world is beginning to return to some semblance of normalcy.
If that weren’t a bleak enough picture, the fundamental rights to bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom, even beyond abortion rights, are steps away from being nothing more than a distant memory.
In fact, many of us in the reproductive rights movement have long known this, but for too long Americans have allowed ourselves to be lured into a false sense of security. Decided in 1973, Roe v. Wade has only been the law of the land for two generations. Justice Ginsburg was at the forefront of that fight in the ‘70s and she continued to defend reproductive freedom throughout her entire career. Right now, 17 abortion-related cases are just one step from the Supreme Court and the last abortion-related case was decided by just one vote with Justice Ginsburg on the Court. Abortion access is literally hanging on by a thread.
In Nevada, we have worked hard to secure the right to safe, legal abortion and reproductive health care. In the 1990s, Nevadans affirmed the right to safe, legal abortion by voter referendum, and 2019 the Nevada Legislature passed the state’s first proactive abortion legislation in 15 years with the Trust Nevada Women Act. These wins reflect Nevadan’s broad embrace of the idea that personal health care decisions remain between a patient and a doctor.
However, that doesn’t mean that the right is completely safe. These changes were made possible by having strong pro-reproductive freedom champions in office, and if the past four years have taught us anything, it is that we can’t take a single right for granted.
As the fervor to roll back reproductive freedom only increases, Nevadans, who are by and large pro-choice with more than 8 in 10 Nevadans supporting abortion rights, must remain vigilant in protecting and expanding access to all forms of reproductive health care. There will come a day when extreme anti-abortion politicians and judges will push against the progress we have made.
We cannot and will not back down now. For the 16 million Americans and thousands of Nevadans across the state who rely on Planned Parenthood health centers for access to reproductive care, including safe, legal abortion, there is no going back.
Right now, the first step to ensuring that we have a fighting chance to protect our fundamental right to reproductive freedom is to vote. The next is to do everything in our power to ensure that, once and for all, the United States finally lives up to its promise that it is a nation of liberty and justice for all, not just the few.