NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, October 8th, 2021

Representative Ayanna Pressley joins reproductive rights activists to discuss the necessity of expanding the Supreme Court

Hel­lo and wel­come back to our con­tin­ued cov­er­age of Net­roots Nation 2021, which is tak­ing place vir­tu­al­ly over Socio and Zoom.

The sec­ond day of Net­roots Nation began with a fea­tured pan­el mod­er­at­ed by Tama­ra Brum­mer address­ing the expan­sion of the Supreme Court as a neces­si­ty for pro­tect­ing repro­duc­tive rights, a crit­i­cal top­ic in the wake of Texas’ “fla­grant­ly uncon­sti­tu­tion­al” Sen­ate Bill 8. Brum­mer is the Direc­tor of Nation­al Out­reach and Engage­ment at Demand Jus­tice, which spon­sored the panel.

As many Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate read­ers know, for decades, Repub­li­cans in Con­gress, spear­head­ed by Repub­li­can Sen­ate Minor­i­ty Leader Mitch McConnell, have been work­ing to stack the courts with right wing judges and jus­tices in the hopes of cre­at­ing an envi­ron­ment where Roe v. Wade can be overturned.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Press­ley began her remarks with a sim­ple, clear mes­sage: “You should care about Supreme Court expansion.”

She described the “cal­cu­lat­ed and coor­di­nat­ed” attacks from the Right, span­ning decades, against the repro­duc­tive rights, espe­cial­ly for Black, queer, trans, and non­bi­na­ry individuals.

“It’s not hap­pen­stance,” she said.

“It’s what is at the root of most injus­tices that seek to exact pre­cise harm on […] the most vul­ner­a­ble: patri­archy and white supremacy.”

Press­ley said that repro­duc­tive jus­tice is also about eco­nom­ic and racial jus­tice in addi­tion to health­care. The Unit­ed States faces a Black mater­nal mor­tal­i­ty cri­sis, with women of col­or dying at three times the rate of white women due to preg­nan­cy-relat­ed complications.

She shared her per­son­al con­nec­tion with the issue, telling the sto­ry of her grand­moth­er she had nev­er met, who died giv­ing birth to her father.

“Sys­tems and struc­tures of oppres­sion,” she said, “[have] dic­tat­ed who receives crit­i­cal and high-qual­i­ty healthcare.”

Access to repro­duc­tive care is one of the ways the nation can alle­vi­ate the cul­tur­al trau­ma and eco­nom­ic dis­par­i­ties fac­ing these mar­gin­al­ized groups.

Brum­mer asked Press­ley to talk about what was hap­pen­ing on Capi­tol Hill to advance repro­duc­tive rights. Press­ley men­tioned the pas­sage of the Wom­en’s Health Pro­tec­tion Act (WHPA), which pro­tects a per­son­’s right to receive an abor­tion with­out state inter­ven­tion such as we’ve seen in recent years, and passed the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Sep­tem­ber 24th.

Press­ley also empha­sized the impor­tance of orga­niz­ing, move­ment-build­ing, and com­mu­ni­ty out­reach in the ongo­ing fight for repro­duc­tive freedom.

“This right­eous rage is root­ed in rad­i­cal love,” she said, fin­ish­ing with a ral­ly­ing cry: “Pro­tect Roe, expand the Court, and don’t ask for jus­tice — demand it!”

The ses­sion then tran­si­tioned into a pan­el dis­cus­sion with repro­duc­tive rights and court reform advo­cates about the future of court expan­sion, the his­to­ry of Roe v. Wade, and the future of repro­duc­tive rights in America.

The par­tic­i­pants were Renee Bracey Sher­man, Founder and Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of We Tes­ti­fy; Son­ja Spoo, Direc­tor of the Repro­duc­tive Rights Cam­paign at Ultra­Vi­o­let; Kelsey Ryland, Direc­tor of Fed­er­al Strate­gies at All* Above All; and Katie O’Con­nor, Deputy Chief Coun­sel of Demand Justice.

Brum­mer asked pan­elists to describe what has hap­pened to repro­duc­tive care in the Unit­ed States since Roe v. Wade was decid­ed, espe­cial­ly in the past few years.

Ryland talked about the myr­i­ad of ways states have sought to under­mine the con­sti­tu­tion­al rights rec­og­nized in Roe v. Wade, such as insti­tut­ing manda­to­ry wait­ing peri­ods, manda­to­ry pre-pro­ce­dure coun­sel­ing, exclud­ing abor­tion cov­er­age in state insur­ance plans sold on the mar­ket­place, and insti­tut­ing trig­ger bans, acti­vat­ed in the event that SCOTUS should over­turn Roe v. Wade.

Spoo, a vio­lin­ist, com­pared the cur­rent wave of repro­duc­tive rights restric­tions to “the worst five move­ment sym­pho­ny you can think of” that was in its final movement.

Con­ser­v­a­tives start­ed orga­niz­ing in the 1970s, she said, using high­ly fund­ed and net­worked efforts, with pack­ing the Supreme Court being their main goal.

Spoo reject­ed the notion some­times per­pet­u­at­ed by the media that these efforts were not extrem­ist, because “any­thing that’s intend­ed to restrict a right is extreme by nature,” express­ing con­cern that court-pack­ing in Repub­li­can-con­trolled states sent the mes­sage that these mea­sures were normal.

Brum­mer then brought up Sen­ate Bill 8, which, as men­tioned, is Texas’ unprece­dent­ed, restric­tive repro­duc­tive health restric­tion law that uti­lizes a cru­el, vin­dic­tive, and puni­tive boun­ty hunter enforce­ment mechanism.

O’Con­nor said that the uncon­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty of Sen­ate Bill 8’s bizarre “vig­i­lante” method of enforce­ment was unques­tion­able, and that the Unit­ed States Depart­ment of Jus­tice’s legal chal­lenge to the law was well-founded.

Sher­man added that the con­fu­sion and byzan­tine nature of these process­es were “the point.” Con­fu­sion, she said, added to the stig­ma sur­round­ing abor­tion ser­vices. Her work with We Tes­ti­fy empha­sizes shar­ing the sto­ries of real peo­ple impact­ed by these injus­tices — “to break down the confusion.”

She empha­sized that “the courts are not the problem.”

More and more, we are see­ing con­ver­sa­tions about the impacts repro­duc­tive rights restric­tions have on queer, trans, and non­bi­na­ry peo­ple hap­pen­ing in court­rooms, rein­forc­ing the need for bring­ing pro­gres­sive jus­tices who are will­ing to lis­ten to these sto­ries to State and Fed­er­al benches.

As the dis­cus­sion wrapped up, all of the pan­elists agreed that expand­ing the Supreme Court was crit­i­cal to the long term pro­tec­tion of repro­duc­tive rights.

“Con­gress not only has the abil­i­ty, but the respon­si­bil­i­ty,” said O’Con­nor, refer­ring to leg­is­la­tion in Con­gress to add four seats to the Supreme Court, bring­ing the num­ber of jus­tices from nine to thirteen.

The WHPA won’t stand a chance of being upheld, Spoo added, if we don’t “add seats to bal­ance the pack­ing Trump and McConnell did.”

“Abor­tion isn’t even a divi­sive issue,” said Sherman.

“It’s a ger­ry­man­dered one!”

She con­nect­ed the bar­ri­ers to abor­tion access to keep­ing “racist relics of the past,” such as redlin­ing prac­tices. “If our House and our Sen­ate pass leg­is­la­tion, we already know that the Court will not uphold the will of the peo­ple, and that’s why we need to expand the Supreme Court.”

Brum­mer con­clud­ed the dis­cus­sion by cit­ing the obser­va­tion Press­ley end­ed her pre­sen­ta­tion with: that this work was “rad­i­cal change through love.”

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