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COMMENTARY: What the Supreme Court Nomination Would Mean for Black Women

By La’Tasha D. Mayes, MSPPM, Executive Director, New Voices for Reproductive Justice

With the confirmation process underway for Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Black women have certainly been voicing our opposition. There’s no sugar-coating it: confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court would be disastrous for Black women.

To begin, Kavanaugh has made it clear that he doesn’t support the right to abortion enshrined in Roe v. Wade – though seven in 10 people in this country do, as well as nearly eight in 10 Black Americans. We know that many states, if they were allowed, would ban abortion immediately. In a handful of states, only one abortion clinic remains, and in others, women are forced to travel long distances, delay care, and pay out-of-pocket for care not covered by insurance. Whether the right to abortion is turned over to states or outlawed, or the court instead allows extreme restrictions, the impact will be fall hardest on those who already struggle to get care — and Black women could be the most harmed.

As DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has noted, Black women are more likely to need abortion care, due to greater barriers we face in accessing comprehensive sex education, contraception, and basic health care of any kind. Denying a woman an abortion has real consequences: research shows that when a woman wants to get an abortion but is denied, she is more likely to fall into poverty, less likely to have a full-time job, and twice as likely to be a victim of domestic violence.

Forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy after she’s decided to end it is a violation of her basic human rights — forcing a Black woman to do so in a country that places so little value on Black life adds incalculable insult to injury. Kavanaugh’s record seems to indicate that he’d be perfectly comfortable forcing pregnancy on Black women, while doing little to ensure that Black women’s children will grow to be healthy, treated equally, and thrive — unlike Antwon Rose Jr. in Pittsburgh and Nia Wilson in Oakland.

Kavanaugh has also sided with bosses to want to deny their employees’ birth control coverage based on the employer’s personal or religious beliefs. Here, too, the stakes are higher for Black women. We are more likely to be struggling economically, therefore less likely to be able to “buy our way out of the problem” by paying out-of-pocket when health coverage is denied.

While the threat Kavanaugh poses to reproductive health has dominated much of the news, Black women have all those and even more concerns when it comes to this nominee. As the NAACP has pointed out, “Our voting rights are on the line. Fair housing and affirmative action are on the line.” Everything that matters to Black women is on the line. In coming years, the Supreme Court could rule on pivotal cases related to racial justice, equal access to education, LGBTQ+ rights and so much more.

All these issues are connected – they are intersectional. Being treated fairly at work, in lending, in school, and elsewhere, as well as voting rights and access to reproductive healthcare, including abortion, help ensure that Black women and our families can be healthy and live with dignity. Now is the time for us to work together – across issues and geography – to defend ourselves, our families and our communities.

Let’s be honest – the Supreme Court has rarely been a friend to Black women. After all, it was the invisibility of Black women in discrimination jurisprudence that led Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to first coin the term “intersectionality.” But the Supreme Court certainly has the power to greatly harm or potentially improve the lives of Black women. We need to watch closely and be sure our that we speak in our own voice and those we elect to serve us trust Black women.

Black women are the largest constituency in the United States that has no representation on the Supreme Court – we’ve never had a Black woman Supreme Court Justice. That is not to say that Justice Clarence Thomas is standing up for the health and rights of Black men – he’s not – but judicial representation matters. It would be incredible to see a Black woman, more than one Black woman, sitting on the highest court in the land.

Until we can see that, we can certainly do better than another ideologically extreme white man who would only roll back the progress for which Black women have already sacrificed so much.

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