With a president who’s been promising to overturn Roe v Wade and re-criminalize abortion since he started campaigning, those who believe in reproductive freedom are naturally skeptical that any nominee he chooses from his list is going to leave any precedent in place that supports access to abortion. Anti-abortion extremists have consolidated almost enough federal power to do so, and are now working to tilt the balance of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe completely, and, in the meantime, make abortion access so restrictive that virtually no one can access abortion safely or easily. And Brett Kavanaugh, having already ruled that the U.S. government preventing a young immigrant from getting an abortion—even after she met all of the requirements set out by the state of Texas—is not an undue burden, seems their guy to do it.
More than seven in ten Americans support access to legal abortion care no matter their personal feelings on the issue, rendering this misguided effort to severely restrict or outlaw abortion nothing more than our government trying to impose an ideology on us. History and current circumstances around the world have shown us that restricting abortion does not stop abortion. What we’ve seen instead is the safety, health, and lives of those least able to terminate an unplanned pregnancy put at greater risk. This is a truth that many in the anti-abortion movement don’t care about; instead contemptuously blaming women for “getting themselves pregnant,” even when many of these people have had little access to resources and information on how to prevent pregnancy.
This contempt for women’s lives and experiences has a name: misogyny. And it has been in full display since these Supreme Court hearings began. We saw it when Senate Judiciary Committee chair Charles Grassley was consistently contemptuous of his peer on the committee, Ranking Member Senator Diane Feinstein. We saw it in the parade of elite white women whose contributions to the Congressional record that Kavanaugh was a “nice guy” who hired women and coached girls’ basketball was supposed to gloss over the very real concerns of many other, mostly non-elite, women whose critical reproductive and civil rights he would decimate. And misogyny was on full display when members of the Senate Judiciary Committee said protestors who exercised their First Amendment rights were “hysterical.”
We saw examples of misogynoir—a term originated to describe the unique discrimination Black women experience—when the testimony of distinguished Black female law professor Melissa Murray was given less credence by the committee and media than the testimony of Kavanaugh supporters who said he was a great classmate and coach.
The revelation of sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh by multiple women has resulted in the level of misogyny ramping up that much more. We already live in a culture in which we make excuses for male violence or dismiss it altogether. We saw Senator Grassley be dismissive towards both a sexual assault survivor and the “female assistant” (prosecutor) he brought in to act as a buffer between him and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as she shared her story of trauma.
North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis played along with the misogyny, joining his Republican colleagues in interrogating Dr. Ford’s credible claims through a female intermediary, while making sure to apologize to Brett Kavanaugh directly for all he’s “been through.”
It’s been pointed out that Dr. Ford fit a “socially accepted” view of femininity in her demeanor and her whiteness that led many Republican senators to insist they found her credible and sympathetic, in ways senators and many Americans did not find Anita Hill when she testified about Clarence Thomas’ sexual harassment in 1991. But they also said they believed Kavanaugh and did not need further investigation to square that contradictory thinking. Many senators fell back on the sexist belief that women can’t be trusted to know our own lives and experiences, even when it seems like we might be believable, when they insisted that Dr. Ford was just “mixed up.”
A young man recently stated to a reporter that even if Kavanaugh is guilty of these actions, it doesn’t matter—Kavanaugh should be put on the bench so “he can stop abortion.” And that’s a political attitude a number of Kavanaugh supporters – both men and women – share (and yes, women can be misogynistic and contemptuous of women as a group). Whether it’s that they believe a Justice Kavanaugh can further their political agenda, or merely a belief that men’s “private” actions should not impact their professional prospects, women’s lives and experiences are never given the same importance as men’s.
This is a moment for America, which goes beyond the partisan politics some are trying to dismiss it as. In the 27 years since Professor Anita Hill faced a mix of racist and sexist vitriol for telling her story, are we really going to put another man accused of sexual assault on our most powerful court for life, and somehow expect that justice for all will actually be done?
Tara Romano is the Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina.