Faced with the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court and a potential end to Roe v. Wade, women in the United States have done what they have continually done since the Trump presidency began—they showed up on the first day of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee and spoke out.
While Senate Democrats continued to ask for a delay to more fully review 42,000 relevant documents dumped the night before the hearing, the protesters outside appeared to put Senate Republicans on the defensive. Many, like Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), claimed offense at the violation of norms and protocol (a charge provided with no hint of irony), and even called it “dumbass.” But it was Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) who made headlines with his outraged response:
People are going to pretend that Americans have no historical memory, and supposedly there haven’t been screaming protesters saying, “Women are going to die” at every hearing for decades …. So the fact that the hysteria has nothing to do with you means that we should ask what’s the hysteria coming from. The hysteria around Supreme Court confirmation hearings is coming from the fact that we have a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the Supreme Court in American life now.
Sasse managed to not only conflate outrage at injustice with a mental disorder of historically sexist origins, but categorized the protesters (most of whom were women) as entirely ignorant of the political process and what is at stake with the potential confirmation of a far-right justice to the Supreme Court.
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Since it was first decided in 1973, Roe v. Wade has been under constant attack. Though the right to an abortion was upheld in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the “undue burden” test paved the way for increasing restrictions on care. In the past eight years, more than 300 abortion restrictions have sailed through state legislatures. Instead of taking a sledgehammer to Roe, anti-abortion legislators and activists have successfully chipped away at its promise for millions of marginalized women. Republicans already have full control of the U.S. House, Senate, and White House. With Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court, anti-choice politicians have every card stacked to finally overturn this landmark ruling and eradicate our most basic right: the ability to control our own bodies.
There is nothing “hysterical” in the response from U.S. women to either this judicial nomination or this presidential administration. In 2017, Kavanaugh voted to block a lower court order that required the government to allow an undocumented teenager to have an abortion. Such a ruling would have allowed the government to delay her abortion by more than a month, pushing her into the second trimester and making it even more difficult to obtain an abortion. He also ruled against the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act that required employers to make contraceptive coverage available to their employees. During the campaign, Trump promised to only nominate judges to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade, and Kavanaugh’s record and avid support from anti-choice leaders leave little doubt of where he stands on the issue.
Women know what’s at stake with Kavanaugh’s nomination. It goes beyond our basic rights. It concerns our lives.
It’s hard for many to remember, but before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide, people still had abortions; they just had unsafe ones. The momentum behind Roe wasn’t just political. Women were literally dying from unsafe abortions.
We know that if someone wants an abortion badly enough, they will find a way to have one, whether it’s legal or not. As abortion has become more inaccessible in Texas, for example, as many as 240,000 people have tried DIY abortions. Without access to legal abortion care, some pregnant people continue with unwanted pregnancies, but many don’t. For some, this means risking arrest, jail time—or death.
Research has shown that countries where abortion is more restricted actually have slightly higher rates of abortion—they are just more likely to be unsafe. According to the Guttmacher Institute, at least 8 percent of maternal deaths worldwide are the result of unsafe abortion, and more than 22,000 women die every year of complications from unsafe abortion. When abortion isn’t legal, it doesn’t go away; it becomes unsafe. In countries where abortion is illegal or severely restricted, pregnant people die. That’s not hyperbole; that’s a fact.
The cries of hysteria that Ben Sasse so cavalierly noted are, in fact, women begging the United States government not to kill them.
The right to a safe and legal abortion should be settled law, but it is far from it. Right now, there are currently 13 cases on abortion that the Supreme Court could rule on in the next year. With Kavanaugh’s appointment, the Court would tip to a decisive 5-4 split against abortion rights, and any one of these cases could seriously hinder access to safe abortion. Faced with the very real possibility that Roe may be overturned, it is once again women who are putting their bodies on the line and fighting for this most basic right.
Abortion is a basic human and constitutional right, one that people in the United States have had for 45 years. If Kavanaugh is approved to the Supreme Court, that right, already a fading reality for too many marginalized people, may soon become a mere pipe dream: a languid memory of a brief moment when we had the ability to control our own bodies.
If being hysterical means screaming for your own humanity and for the humanity of all women, if being hysterical means refusing to silently tolerate the erosion of our most basic rights, then yes—women are hysterical.
So in a way, Ben Sasse is right. Because if there was ever a time to be hysterical, it would be now.