The Racial and Reproductive Justice of Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall, 1967. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

On January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as America’s 45th president, almost half a million people descended on Washington, D.C., in what the Washington Post called “likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history.” The Women’s March was held to protest the election of a highly unpopular president, who had been exposed in the months leading up to the election as someone who insulted the appearance and intelligence of women, boasted of his aggressive sexual advances toward others, and vowed to nominate a Supreme Court judge who would roll back women’s access to abortion. In D.C., and at solidarity marches around the nation and the world, people arrived for a massive show of support for women’s rights and reproductive justice.


Thurgood Marshall was a “great champion of intersecting struggles against racism and sexism.”


Actor Chadwick Boseman, who was on the set of Marvel Studios’ Black Panther, a movie based on the first black superhero featured in mainstream comics, took a break from filming that morning to tweet, “Shooting Black Panther on a Saturday. But my heart is at the Women’s March.” It was a fitting sentiment for an actor who had also been cast to star in Marshall, the recently released biopic about the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

While Marshall was known foremost for his role in important civil rights cases like Brown v. Board of Education, as well as for becoming the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice some 50 years ago this month, he was also an influential figure in the history of reproductive justice. While the biopic focuses on his early career, when he handled a 1941 case involving a black defendant facing racially charged allegations and a prejudiced criminal justice system, it was not until more than three decades after that case — and more than five years after his swearing in to the Supreme Court — that Marshall became a fixture in the history of abortion rights in the U.S. Continue reading

For Women’s Equality Day, A Call to Use Your Right to Vote

On August 18, 1920, Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and on August 26, 1920, it was certified: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

It had taken 72 years: In 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott convened the first women’s rights convention in U.S. history at Seneca Falls, this resolution was passed: “Resolved, That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”


People in power would not be trying so hard to keep us from voting if our votes weren’t powerful. We must not give up that power.


Of 12 resolutions, it was the only one that was not passed unanimously. Although leaders such as Sojourner Truth, Mary McClintock, Susan B. Anthony, and Frederick Douglass supported a resolution demanding women’s right to vote, many other attendees thought such a resolution might be a bridge too far. But by 1920, after women had marched, rallied, and faced abuse and arrest, several states had already adopted women’s suffrage.

In 1971, the newly elected Rep. Bella Abzug proposed observing August 26 as Women’s Equality Day to commemorate women’s suffrage, and a joint resolution of Congress made it so. But getting the right to vote cannot be considered a victory if we do not exercise that right. In the 2016 election, only 58 percent of registered voters actually cast a ballot. Although Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes, she trailed President Obama’s 2008 votes by 3.4 million. Continue reading

TRAP Laws: Slowly Chipping Away at Abortion Access

Repeal TRAP laws nowThis week marks the third anniversary of the decision in Planned Parenthood Southeast, Inc. v. Strange, a lawsuit that challenged HB 57. This bill, passed by Alabama’s state legislature, required every physician who performs an abortion at a clinic to have staff privileges at a local hospital. Planned Parenthood clinics in Birmingham and Mobile, as well as providers at Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery, would have been unable to obtain hospital staff privileges for various reasons, including a hospital board’s opposition to abortion, requirements that doctors admit between 12 and 48 patients a year to retain staff privileges, and stipulations that the physicians live within a certain radius of the hospital. (Ridiculous, right?)

Luckily, on August 4, 2014, a federal court blocked the requirement that abortion providers obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals — a victory for reproductive rights, but just one small battle in the larger war against abortion access in the United States.


We will not let our state laws be templates for other anti-choice legislation.


Bills like HB 57 are called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws. TRAP laws selectively focus on medical facilities that provide abortions to make it more difficult for reproductive health care providers to offer abortion services to their patients. In a nutshell, TRAP laws segregate abortion from regular medical procedures, discourage doctors from providing abortion services because of the tedious requirements to do so, and dramatically increase the cost of obtaining an abortion.

Many state legislatures pass these restrictions by arguing that abortion is a risky medical procedure. However, according to the Guttmacher Institute, “abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures for women in the United States. Fewer than 0.05% of women obtaining abortions experience a complication.” Continue reading

Stenberg v. Carhart: “Partial Birth” (NOT)

Dr. Leroy Carhart

Dr. Leroy Carhart sued Nebraska for outlawing a specific late-term abortion procedure, and won.

Seventeen years ago today — June 28, 2000 — the Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska law banning “partial birth abortion,” which the letter of the law described as “an abortion procedure in which the person performing the abortion partially delivers vaginally a living unborn child before killing the unborn child and completing the delivery.” *

Pause here a moment.

Is there any doubt in your mind that these words, quoted from the statute, were chosen by lawmakers to sound like infanticide, the killing of a baby between birth and one year? Are you horrified yet? Read on.

By a 5-4 ruling, the majority struck down the law in Stenberg v. Carhartsaying Nebraska’s ban was unconstitutionally vague and lacked a needed exception allowing the procedure to be used to protect the health of the pregnant mother. What? Huh? Infanticide is OK with the Supremes? How could that be? (Dissenting justices used the word infanticide 13 times in their dissents.)


Instead of outlawing abortion in one fell swoop, opponents are going after it one procedure at a time, stigmatizing lifesaving care in the process.


First, what banned procedure are we talking about? In 1992, Dr. Martin Haskell developed the “D&X” procedure, intact dilation and extraction (the medically appropriate name), calling it “a quick, surgical outpatient method” for late second-trimester and early third-trimester abortions. Outpatient is a key word here because the patient does not require an expensive, overnight hospital stay and, as we know, many hospitals do not allow any abortion procedures at all. Dr. Carhart, a surgeon and retired U.S. Air Force colonel, wanted to, and ultimately did, adopt this technique in his medical practice as the best and safest abortion option for some women.

As I read through all 107 pages of the court’s opinion, written by Justice Stephen Breyer and including three concurring opinions and four dissents, what struck me was one basic fact: The Nebraska law prohibited previability abortions** in which a fetus had a zero percent chance of ever being born — no matter what procedure medical professionals used. At that point in its development, the fetus could not survive outside the uterus. The Nebraska law that the Supreme Court struck down, then, had been a tool to demonize and criminalize physicians who decided the best interest of the woman was served by a procedure defined in the medical literature as “intact dilation and extraction,” and by anti-abortion politicians and agitators as “partial birth abortion.” Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • The Washington Post has a nifty graphic explaining what the Senate health care bill changes about the Affordable Care Act. FYI: It’s really just as much an abomination as the House’s crappy version. (WaPo)
  • To be clear, Planned Parenthood would be screwed out of funding if GOP numbskulls have their way. (Newsweek)
  • The Arizona State Senate has more female members, proportionally speaking, than any other state legislative body in the entire country. So why in all hells does this state still pass so much anti-woman legislation? WHY?!? (Phoenix New Times)
  • Apparently, women in many states can’t legally revoke consent if sex with a partner turns violent during the act? The failure to cease the sex when a woman says so isn’t legally “rape” according to the courts if she has already consented. Evidently, men are entitled to “finish” (ejaculate) once consent has been given and it cannot be revoked. WTF?!?! How is this real life? (Broadly)
  • Fusion has a great piece and accompanying documentary about rising maternal mortality rates among black women in the U.S. (Fusion)
  • NY Attorney General Sues Anti-Abortion Groups for Viciously Harassing Patients Outside Queens Clinic. Good. Throw.The.Book.At.These.Fools. Who else is willing to bet rent money that they are in the “so pro-life they’ve never fostered or adopted any children” crowd? A show of hands please. (Jezebel)
  • Missouri is legit taking a page out of The Handmaid’s Tale, y’all. (The Mary Sue)
  • Six experts quit the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS because they feel No. 45 “simply does not care” about the disease. Obviously, this does not bode well for HIV/AIDS treatment or research to eradicate the disease. (CNN)
  • Earlier this week, Karen Handel won the special election in Georgia. Here’s a reminder why she’s literally the absolute worst and will be no champion for women. She’s also so “pro-life” she’s never fostered or adopted any children. That puts her in good company with all the other “pro-lifers” in government. (Cosmopolitan)
  • Most sexually active teenagers in the U.S. are using contraception! Good job, kids! (Time)
  • If you’re sick of Republicans rigging elections in their favor, the possibility of SCOTUS delivering a rebuke over gerrymandering should excite you just a little bit! (WaPo)

Looking Back at Loving v. Virginia: The 50th Anniversary of a Landmark Case

Richard and Mildred Loving

Bettmann/Corbis via New York Times

When Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving started dating in the early 1950s, the idea that their relationship could change history could not have seemed more remote. When they decided to marry, Richard knew plenty of other people in Central Point, Virginia, had skirted the same legal barriers that stood in their way. Those Central Pointers had always been able to resume their lives afterward with no controversy or consequence. He and Mildred expected the same for themselves.


Loving v. Virginia upset one of the last strongholds of segregation.


Instead, Mildred and Richard would become the subject of numerous books and articles, a made-for-TV movie, a documentary, and a feature film, as well as the plaintiffs in a landmark Supreme Court case that turns 50 today. Their reluctance and modesty, even as their legal battle took on national significance, were captured in what Richard told LIFE Magazine in 1966: “[We] are not doing it just because somebody had to do it and we wanted to be the ones. We are doing it for us.”

An Illegal Marriage

Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter met in 1950, seven miles from Central Point, at a farmhouse where the seven-member Jeter Brothers were staging a bluegrass show. Richard loved listening to bluegrass. That night, however, it was not the performers, but their younger sister, Mildred, who captured his attention. Mildred was a few years his junior and known for being shy and soft-spoken. She thought Richard seemed arrogant at first, but her impression changed as she got to know the kindness he possessed. The two dated for several years, often spending time together at the racetrack, where Richard and two close friends won numerous trophies with a race car they maintained together.

What would have otherwise been a familiar story of romance in rural, 1950s America was complicated by race, at a time when segregation was deeply entrenched. Richard Loving was white, of Irish and English descent, and Mildred Jeter was black, as well as part Cherokee and Rappahannock. For Richard and Mildred, though, Central Point provided an unusually safe space, one that stalled the expectation that their relationship could invite legal troubles. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Some happy news to share right off the bat — Epic TV Goddess Shonda Rhimes has joined the board of Planned Parenthood! (ABC News)

  • Dr. Willie Parker, a prominent physician and abortion provider, visited The Daily Show to talk about the barriers faced by women seeking abortion and the religious beliefs that inform his pro-choice values. What an astonishingly brave and compassionate man. (Comedy Central)
  • The Democrats’ filibuster was successful, so Republicans went ahead with the “nuclear” option for Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court. We know how they roll, so it’s not a surprise. “Better to change the rules altogether than play the game fairly!” –Republicans (MSNBC)
  • Can you imagine being CONVICTED of molestation for changing a baby’s diaper? Arizona was very close to enacting this, but luckily the law was struck down. (Slate)
  • This is scary: Anti-abortion groups in various states have been  tracking women’s visits to Planned Parenthood and other health clinics via cellphone data (a practice known as “geofencing”), and then sending “pro-life” digital ads to their smartphones! Massachusetts is not having it, but what about the rest of us? (Boston Globe)
  • Ivanka Trump, who purports to be all about the “economic empowerment” of women, held a meeting with Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards in the weeks following the inauguration and has since done NOT A DAMN THING to advance THE most crucial aspect of women’s livelihoods — reproductive rights. (Politico)
  • The global gag rule, recently put back into effect by President Trump (wonder where Ivanka was???), will only “increase the likelihood of perilous, sometimes fatal [abortion] procedures.” Thanks in advance for contributing to the deaths of scores of women around the world, 45. (Lenny Letter)
  • Republicans have a remarkable knack for taking something that sucks and literally making it suck even worse. Kudos and cheers to Trumpcare 2.0 failing just as badly as the first version. (Think Progress)
  • The spike in oral cancer cases is spurring more and more doctors to order parents to vaccinate their young children against HPV. This goes for girls AND boys! (Chicago Tribune)
  • Speaking of HPV, a quarter of American men have cancer-causing strains of the virus! (Jezebel)
  • One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing non-scientific hysteria surrounding birth control. “Oh, I tried the Pill but it made me CRAZY!” Or, “I gained x number of pounds taking birth control!” Or, “I took the Pill but it made me super-depressed!” Well, science has spoken: Birth control has not been proven to cause depression. Also, please keep in mind, there are dozens upon dozens of different types of birth control pills. They don’t all have the same side effects! (NY Times)
  • Here’s How John McCain and Jeff Flake’s Votes Could End Up Screwing Over 30,000 Arizona Women (Phoenix New Times)
  • “The Donald” has halted all U.S. grants to the United Nations Population Fund, an international humanitarian aid organization that provides reproductive health care and works to end child marriage and female genital cutting in more than 150 countries. (HuffPo)