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.”