The Kennedy Retirement and the Radicalizing of the Supreme Court

Protesters swarmed Washington, DC, to voice their opposition to Brett Kavanaugh.

When Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court, alarms went up about overturning Roe v. Wade, which would make abortion once again illegal in many states. As shown in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, in which Kennedy provided the decisive fifth vote overturning Texas’ draconian laws limiting abortion access, one justice can preserve the right to abortion. But Kennedy also voted with the majority in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, when the Supreme Court upheld a state’s right to impose extra requirements — mandatory counseling, waiting periods, etc. — on those seeking abortions. So, while he was willing to curtail access, he never was willing to overturn Roe v. Wade altogether.


In Brett Kavanaugh’s twisted worldview, paperwork is the true burden, while an unwanted pregnancy is not.


But Kennedy was the last independent conservative on the Supreme Court. Anyone Trump nominated was going to be on the far right because he was using the Federalist Society’s list compiled by Leonard Leo. Not quite a kingmaker, but definitely a justice-maker, Leo is also responsible for Justices Roberts, Alito, and Gorsuch.

But some on the right have some doubts about Kavanaugh. In response, the National Review emphasizes Kavanaugh’s judicial defense of “religious freedom.” (Nothing shows the real danger Kavanaugh poses like pundits on the far right reassuring other conservatives.) They lauded Kavanaugh’s ruling in favor of the Trump administration in the case of Jane Doe, the teenage immigrant the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) tried to stop from having an abortion, as “the latest in a long, unbroken line of consistent decisions on issues of religion and abortion.” Continue reading

Sons Speak About Mom’s Abortion

“Mom, did you ever have an abortion?” It’s a simple question. Karen Thurston’s sons, Kevin and Stephen, never asked. Why would they? What would possibly make them even think to ask?

Thurston Family

Karen Thurston and her sons Kevin (left) and Stephen. Photo taken the day Karen told them about her 1973 abortion, courtesy of Karen Thurston.

On the flip side, why did Karen never speak to her sons about her teenage experiences with abortion care? Because, for decades, Karen heeded the advice of her father, who had arranged for her 1973 procedure when she was just 13: “You must never, ever, as long as you live, tell anyone you had an abortion, not even your husband when you are grown.”

In 2013, though, she did tell her sons, and now tells her story forcefully, publicly, and with great compassion to chip away at the stigma associated with abortion care.

Consider now Kevin’s and Stephen’s reactions:

Kevin: I first learned of my mom’s abortion story when I was 23 years old. My mom asked me if it would be possible for the two of us to fly to Pittsburgh and meet my older brother there for dinner. My brother and I could both tell that this wasn’t just a whimsical get-together; there was something she wanted to talk about. That’s when she shared her story. We could tell it really pained her. Not only was the story difficult to tell on its own, but she was clearly afraid of our reaction. Even after raising us our whole lives, after being closer to us than anyone we’d ever known, she didn’t know if she could trust us to understand, and I think that speaks to how cruel stigmatization is. It is so isolating for women who’ve made that choice that they do not even see allies in their families or the children they do go on to raise. Continue reading

Maternal Mortality: A National Embarrassment

Americans spend more money on childbirth than any other country, but we’re not getting a good return on our investment.

Less than a century ago, approximately one mother died for every 100 live births — an occurrence so common that nearly everyone belonged to a family, or knew of one, that was devastated by such a loss. Fortunately, in most nations, those tragedies have declined over the years. In fact, in the decade between 2003 and 2013, only eight countries saw their maternal mortality rates rise.

Unfortunately, the United States was one of those eight countries, joining a club that also includes Afghanistan and South Sudan. Within the 31 industrialized countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an American woman is more likely to die as a result of pregnancy than a citizen of any other country besides Mexico. Among developed countries, the United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates — and those rates are only getting worse.

Graph: CDC

U.S. maternal mortality has attracted the attention of organizations whose oversight you wouldn’t expect. Amnesty International, which most Americans associate with the fight against human rights abuses in far-flung authoritarian regimes, considers our high maternal mortality rates to be a violation of human rights. Additionally — and pathetically — one of the biggest sources of funding for maternal health in the United States comes not from taxpayers but from the pharmaceutical company Merck. The Economist quoted a Merck spokesperson as saying, “We expected to be doing all our work in developing countries.” Continue reading

Credibility Is the First Casualty: Behind the Pro-Gun Blame-Dodging That Targets Planned Parenthood

In the wake of February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the debate over gun control reached a fever pitch in the news and on the ground. As CNN reported, in the seven days after the shooting, there were more than a thousand mentions of “gun control” by ABC, CBS, and other major broadcasters. Survivors, student activists, and gun control advocates kept the story front and center by mobilizing across the nation, organizing school walkouts and March For Our Lives events to demand smarter gun control laws and safer classrooms and communities.


To men invested in an old order of male dominance, gun culture and reproductive justice are in direct conflict with each other.


Planned Parenthood was among the many voices calling for an end to gun violence. Just two days after the shooting, Planned Parenthood Action posted a call for reform on their blog, noting that 96 lives are lost to gun violence daily. The post made its position clear: “As a health care provider, Planned Parenthood is committed to the fundamental right of all people to live safe and healthy lives without the fear of violence.”

Numerous Planned Parenthood affiliates were doing the same. On the local front, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona was signal-boosting relevant articles on its Facebook page, including a profile of Emma González, who quickly became one of the most outspoken and recognized survivor activists in Parkland.

For pro-gun conservatives, on the other hand, the Parkland shooting was a call to go on the defensive and double down on their messaging. For a long while, a common tactic has been to deflect criticism by blaming access to abortion for “a culture of death,” as Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) put it, or by peddling the notion that Planned Parenthood takes more lives than gun violence. In March, Matt Walsh dredged up that argument on the conservative website The Daily Wire. He dripped with sarcasm, stating he was “impressed [Planned Parenthood] could find time” to join the debate on gun control, “considering they’re also wrapped up in their war against babies and life itself.” To Walsh, Planned Parenthood is not in the business of promoting safe and healthy lives, because he looks past the lives of women. Continue reading

Brothers in Arms, Part 4: The Gathering Storm of Patriots and Plainclothes Politicians

This article is our final installment in a series that explores the historical and contemporary links between racial intolerance and opposition to abortion. Previously, this series examined the connections that developed in the 1980s between white supremacists and the anti-abortion movement, which bred a growing extremism and led to the first assassination of an abortion provider in 1993. This installment looks at the threats that developed in the aftermath.

1996 Planned Parenthood publication detailing militia movement links to anti-abortion terrorism

On March 11, 1993, Michael Frederick Griffin approached Dr. David Gunn outside his Pensacola clinic and shot him in the back three times, reportedly shouting, “Don’t kill any more babies!” Griffin, who had been radicalized by former Klansman and anti-abortion crusader John Burt, committed the first assassination of an abortion provider in the U.S. The following year, 1994, saw a record four murders and eight attempted murders by anti-abortion extremists, and more than half of the estimated 1,500 abortion clinics in the U.S. were targets of anti-abortion crimes, such as arson or bombings, in the first seven months of 1994. Although the next two years would see decreases in some types of anti-abortion crimes, clinics have never been free of threats in any of the years since.


Since the 1990s, anti-government groups have stirred racial hatred and anti-abortion extremism on the right.


Just weeks after Dr. Gunn’s assassination, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ended a 51-day armed standoff at a compound in Waco, Texas, the home of a religious cult known as the Branch Davidians. The standoff began in response to reports that the cult was abusing children and stockpiling illegal weapons. The siege ended on April 19, 1993 — 25 years ago this month — when the cult’s leader, David Koresh, ordered his followers to ignite fires that soon engulfed the compound in flames. By the end of the standoff, 75 people had lost their lives.

The federal government’s actions in Waco had overwhelming public support — 70 percent according to a poll conducted shortly after the siege — but to many right-wing activists, who held a deep distrust of the federal government, Waco was a gross display of heavy-handed government intrusion; tyrannical, military-style policing; and violent intolerance of religious liberty. Waco thus became a rallying cry for a growing, militant movement in the political right. Continue reading

Brothers in Arms, Part 3: White Supremacy and the War on Abortion

This article is our third installment in a series that explores the historical and contemporary links between racial intolerance and opposition to abortion. Previously, this series explored the first years after Roe v. Wade, when a fight to preserve school segregation brought together Christian conservatives, who then took on the issue of abortion. This installment examines the connections that developed later between racist groups and the anti-abortion movement in the 1980s, which fed a growing extremism that escalated in the following decade.

KKK members picket Carter campaign office in Alabama, September 1, 1980. Photo: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, courtesy of Georgia State University

The U.S. entered the 1980s with a new political force at work, one that had proven its strength by playing a role in the landslide defeat of incumbent President Jimmy Carter and the election of Ronald Reagan. The religious right had been slow to coalesce in the 1970s, but when it finally did, it became a power that shaped national politics.

What had taken time was trying out — and then abandoning — issues like school prayer and pornography, hoping to find the political lightning bolt that would unite and energize the religious right. When they finally did find their compelling issue, the religious right had a problem: It wasn’t one they could use publicly.


During the Reagan years, there was ample crossover between white supremacist and anti-abortion groups.


Beginning in the 1960s, the South was dotted with private Christian schools that provided white Southerners, many of whom were wary of racial integration, with an alternative to the public schools that were undergoing desegregation. But by the 1970s, those private schools were under attack, coming under the scrutiny of both the IRS and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for their admissions and hiring policies.

The issue brought together key figures in the religious right, like Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones, and Paul Weyrich, and they made it their mission to defeat Carter’s reelection bid, hoping the next president would put the IRS and EEOC on a shorter leash. But to build their movement publicly and nationally, they needed an issue that would stir a broader base of sympathy, branding them as believers instead of bigots. They picked abortion — namely, demanding a constitutional amendment to outlaw it — and they enjoyed a resounding success. Carter refused their demands and lost. Reagan, the candidate they endorsed — and whose party supported their demand in its official platform — won by one of the largest margins in history. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Pride in Reykjavík. Photo: Dave

    I’m thrilled to start this edition of the rundown off with stellar news! On Wednesday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination against transgender people. It also held that employers may not use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to justify discrimination against LGBTQ workers. (Slate)

  • It is beyond disheartening to witness what the Trump administration is doing to erode women’s access to affordable contraception. (NYT)
  • And it’s even more disheartening considering the positive outcome birth control has on women’s economic fortunes. Particularly women of color: 65 percent of black female and 64 percent of Latina small-business owners surveyed by Small Business Majority say that access to birth control, and the freedom to decide if and when to have children, has impacted their bottom lines as business owners. (Forbes)
  • The FDA continues to receive negative reports on the implanted birth control device Essure. It is so important for women to research and discuss all potential risks (for any medication or medical device) with their doctors. (Reuters)
  • A Trump-nominated judge has participated in a number of dangerous anti-choice panels, including one where she supported a doctor who claims “that women who take contraceptive pills are more likely to die violent deaths.” HA! WHAT?!? Oh, and she also left anti-abortion speeches she gave off her Senate disclosure form. (Vice)
  • Mississippi is trying to ban all abortions after 15 weeks. Which is the epitome of stupid, because courts across the country have ruled over and over that states cannot restrict abortion prior to fetal viability. But hey, since when do forced-birth advocates care about repeating their failures again and again? (CBS News)
  • The U.N. has advised that the teen pregnancy rate in Latin America, as well as the Caribbean, is “unacceptably high.” (Thompson Reuters)
  • Do birth control pills cause depression? Science says no. (Time)
  • Love this piece about the orgasm gap in heterosexual encounters and how it goes unaddressed in the realm of sex ed! (The Conversation)
  • Texas and the Catholic Church continue to be problematic as hell. Two lesbian college professors married to each other were told they could not foster a refugee child through Catholic Charities of Fort Worth because they did not “mirror a holy family,” according to a lawsuit filed in federal court on Tuesday. How can these entities purport to be pro-life when they stand in opposition of two seemingly good, earnest people trying to save a child’s life? (Fort Worth Star)
  • We are taking the midterm elections very seriously around here! Planned Parenthood is doing everything in our power to kick the GOP’s heinie/culo/derrière this November. (Slate)