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Again, the Rights of Women Remain at a Crossroads
The Supreme Court has made it clear that ideology trumps health in the nation's highest court.
On April 18, the Supreme Court made it clear that respect for legal precedent is dead. Clear that Roe v. Wade's protections are no longer immutable. Clear that it doesn't mind letting its own self-described "moral concerns" trump constitutional protections. Clear that the religious right has ascended to the federal bench. Clear that it favors politics over science, leaving doctors with fewer options, and women at risk for their health and safety.
The Supreme Court delivered a devastating blow to women and women's health in its 5-4 decision to uphold the federal abortion ban in Gonzalez v. Carhart and Gonzalez v. Planned Parenthood.
Since 1973, this is the first time an abortion ban that does not include an exception for a woman's health has been upheld. This marks a dangerous erosion of reproductive rights and health.
Reproductive-rights activists and defenders of religious liberty were outraged that Congress, the president and now the Supreme Court could all cast aside the rights of women.
Contrary to Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion, the federal abortion ban does create an "undue burden" on women -- preventing them from accessing what might be the safest way to terminate a pregnancy. Our anger has strengthened our resolve. We had hoped not to have to fight for safe, legal abortion again, but we are ready, willing and able. We've done it before; we can do it again. We must.
Consider the forceful dissenting opinion, in which Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that this "alarming" decision "tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists."
This, in her words, is "irrational." We must consider again what it means when the self-described "moral concerns" of five male Supreme Court justices can cast aside a female's right to safety, respect for women as moral decision-makers and three decades of legal precedent.
Since 2000, when a very different Supreme Court overturned, also by a 5-4 vote, a nearly identical state abortion-ban law, the composition of the court has been radically transformed by President Bush's appointments of Samuel Alito Jr. and John Roberts. This is what we feared would happen, and it was one reason the National Council of Jewish Women opposed the confirmation of these clearly anti-choice nominees.
As I read this disturbing decision, I bitterly recalled how both men assured the Senate Judiciary Committee that they would respect legal precedent.
But Ginsburg wrote that "ultimately, the Court admits that 'moral concerns' are at work, concerns that could yield prohibitions on any abortion. ... By allowing such concerns to carry the day and case, overriding fundamental rights, the Court dishonors our precedent."
This new precedent likely will open the floodgates for a wave of anti-choice legislation. The religious right has clearly scored a victory, and will use this decision to eviscerate other reproductive rights.
We must be vigilant. We cannot change the court's decision, but we can reaffirm our commitment to federal court appointees loyal to the Constitution, rather than to ideologically driven "moral concerns."
Surely, it must be clear to all that the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court matters, and with 2008 elections quickly approaching, voters are unlikely to forget this tragic and very close decision. We must make sure that the "moral concerns" of five men do not determine the options of American women. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) have announced their introduction of the Freedom of Choice Act, designed to protect the health of women, with the added benefit of putting Congress on record in support of a woman's right to choose.
I hope that all senators and representatives who care about America's women take a pledge to support this act.
Phyllis Snyder is president of the National Council of Jewish Women.