Civil Liberties

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.”

Caya Berndt

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