Despite the hypocrisy of doing so, U.S. Senate leaders are pushing forward the confirmation process for President Trump’s deeply problematic nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
We demand the Senate not vote on a nominee until after Inauguration Day. Instead, our elected officials in Washington, D.C., should focus on helping people survive the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, sending much-needed additional relief funds to states in order to avoid worsening both public health and economic crises.
But what the Senate should do and what it does do seem rarely to be in alignment these days. And so, even as we advocate for the better, we are prepared for the worst. (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that he planned to move forward with Judge Barrett’s confirmation process, suggesting that the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis will not affect the quick timeline Senate leaders have planned.)
I won’t mince words: Judge Barrett’s record indicates she poses a dire threat to reproductive freedom, health care access, LGBTQ rights and our very democracy. Frankly, many of these are already in tenuous shape. But moving forward with this confirmation process – beyond being unethical on the part of the Senate – threatens people’s lives, livelihoods and families.
Without the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s voice and legal mind on the bench, many hard-won and fundamental freedoms could be ripped away. As health care providers, we are particularly concerned that millions could lose health care coverage and that the overarching protection that Roe v. Wade has provided for more than 47 years could crumble.
Of course, existing barriers and restrictions on the state and federal level mean that for too many people, abortion care is already difficult if not impossible to access.
Anti-abortion politicians want to make it much harder for people to get abortion care. And the front lines of this battle are on the ground, in the states.
Were the Supreme Court to weaken or overturn Roe entirely, abortion would remain legal in just 21 states that protect abortion rights in state constitutions or state law and likely would be prohibited in 24 states and three territories, according to the international Center for Reproductive Rights. Tens of millions of people would live in “abortion deserts,” unable to access a safe and common form of health care. Young people, Black people, Indigenous people, people of color, folks struggling to make ends meet, LGBTQ+ people, those who live in rural places and anyone unable to travel out of state to obtain abortion care would be harmed most.
How would Maine be affected if Roe falls?
Fortunately, in Maine, the right to access abortion care is preserved – for now – in state statute. Passed by the Maine Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. John McKernan in 1994, the Reproductive Privacy Act affirms the right to end a pregnancy until viability, and beyond that when the pregnant person’s life or health are in danger. New laws passed in 2019 further expanded abortion access in Maine.
In the current climate, it certainly is a relief to know that the Reproductive Privacy Act protects Mainers’ right to abortions. But state statutes are less secure than protections enshrined in state constitutions. State law can be changed or repealed in the course of a single four- to six-month legislative session.
We cannot take for granted that Maine’s state legislature currently comprises many reproductive champions who reflect real Maine values. We must work together to keep it that way.
It is imperative that all our representatives value people’s ability to make decisions about their own reproductive health, free from government interference. We have the power to ensure that our state-level protections stay in place as a bulwark against a hostile administration and U.S. Supreme Court.
No matter what happens during the weeks ahead, the battle for reproductive rights will increasingly be fought state by state. Twenty-two years after passage of our Reproductive Privacy Act, Mainers must make clear that this law is more important than ever – while also supporting efforts to protect and expand abortion access nationwide. Because the ability to get abortion care should not depend on what state you live in.