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What Justice Brett Kavanaugh Means For Women

In his opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Brett Kavanaugh spent a considerable amount of time noting the women in his life: his mother, Mary Kavanaugh, who served as a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge; his wife, Ashley Estes Kavanaugh, a former White House aid; Justice Elena Kagan, who hired him at Harvard Law School; and the female law clerks he has hired as a DC Circuit Judge (noting with pride that the “majority” of his clerks have been women). He also named each of the student athletes he coaches on his daughter’s basketball team, drawing smiles as he applauded Title IX for helping to “make girls’ and women’s sports equal.”

That is all well and good. But the Supreme Court nominee did not demonstrate a commitment to women’s equality when he attempted to deny an undocumented teen an abortion in Garza v. Hargan or when he wrote that contraception coverage is a “substantial burden” to businesses’ religious exercise in Priests for Life v. HHS. This week’s Senate Judiciary hearing will not determine the outcome of a basketball tournament. It will shape the future of reproductive rights and access for generations to come.

As a Jewish feminist, I’m alarmed by the ways that Kavanaugh, if confirmed, could use religious freedom as a justification to deny women control over their own bodies, and what that would mean for millions of women and families across the country. But whether or not the Supreme Court revisits Roe v. Wade (the subject of endless speculation), I’m just as concerned about the battles that the religious right is currently waging against women’s reproductive rights and access, state by state.

Religious freedom doesn’t always mean what we think it does. In her August 7 piece, The Women Who ‘Don’t Have a Choice’ About Abortion, and the Man Who Is Stopping Them, Jane Eisner [recounts the story of a woman who received an Orthodox rabbi’s blessing to undergo an abortion after he consulted with medical specialists and halakhic experts. According to Jewish law, she could have the procedure. But according to her state’s law, she could not. So she and her husband flew to a clinic in Colorado, one of the few states where a late term abortion could be performed. They spent more than $10,000 on the procedure.

Women shouldn’t have to go to such lengths — and most can’t afford to. Legislation like the Reproductive Health Act, which Eisner references, can help safeguard women’s reproductive rights. Unfortunately, that act has been stuck in the New York Senate for six months. In New York and states across the country, lawmakers are not only failing to protect women’s health, but also actively placing new restrictions on abortion. Currently, 45 states around the country restrict abortion in some way, violating a woman’s right to bodily autonomy. Some states have laws more egregious than others, like Iowa, where the governor signed the country’s most restrictive abortion bill, banning abortion at six weeks, into law this past May. In Mississippi, abortion is banned after 15 weeks — in a state that has only one health center that provides abortions.

We’re witnessing a nationwide attack on women’s reproductive rights and access to health care in the name of religious freedom. Kavanaugh’s confirmation would only be one part of that story. The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division launched by the Department of Health and Human Services in January, which would allow individuals or organizations to refuse abortion and contraception services based on their “deepest moral or religious convictions,” is another. Just as alarming are the anti-abortion extremists who have been packed onto the federal bench by this administration and whose work is clearly motivated by their own ideologies. They include Wendy Vitter, who has made the false claim that abortion is linked to breast cancer; Michael Truncale, who claims we are in the midst of a “culture war” due to decline in religion; and Andrew Oldham, who led Texas’s efforts to strike down the Affordable Care Act.

But thousands of Jewish feminists nationwide — including NCJW activists and our partners — are organizing against anti-choice judicial nominees and anti-choice legislation to ensure the rights we’ve long fought for. We are determined to speak out against laws that deny reproductive freedoms in the name of religious freedom. We know that reproductive freedom is inextricably bound to religious freedom. We believe that every woman, no matter where she lives, deserves the right to make her own faith-informed decisions about her body, and when and if to have a family.

So, bring it on. We are geared up and ready to fight for the future of abortion and health care rights in this country, in addition to our most fundamental right: individual freedom. We will not go back.

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