Commentary Law and Policy

Brett Kavanaugh Is the ‘Pro-Life’ Poster Boy

Erin Matson

Both assault and denial of control over pregnancy thrive on stigma, secrecy, and shame about human sexuality.

The apotheosis of what the “pro-life” movement stands for and plans to achieve has arrived in the form of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, hand-picked by President Donald Trump to create the enduring five-seat majority on the U.S. Supreme Court that will end the federal constitutional right to abortion. The allegations about Kavanaugh emerging over the last two weeks are not inconsistent with what it truly means to be “pro-life”: Denial of agency, autonomy, and human rights are the core outcomes of this worldview.

That he would tip the balance of power against Roe v. Wade is not the only reason Brett Kavanaugh is the quintessential “pro-life” poster boy. If anything, the allegations that as a teenager he trapped Christine Blasey Ford in a bedroom, pinned her to a bed, attempted to remove her clothes, and placed his hand over her mouth so she could not scream make him an even better fit. That a second set of allegations—this time from Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party while they were students at Yale—has emerged only reiterates this.

The line connecting sexual assault with denial of control over pregnancy and birth is short: Both are abuses of power in which an individual or the state denies a person’s human right to bodily autonomy. Both are forms of sexual oppression. Both thrive on stigma, secrecy, and shame about human sexuality. To be clear, I believe Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and sexual assault survivors in general. It’s believable to me, then, that a teenager who found himself personally entitled to take control of someone’s body without her consent would become a judge who would later decide in favor of denying a detained immigrant minor’s right to abortion. In this disturbing way of thinking, young people have agency—so long as they are young, white, cisgender men. Otherwise, good luck.

The allegations are credible; Ford passed a lie detector test, and more than 1,000 women who attended Holton-Arms School with her have signed a letter supporting her. Ramirez came forward after Trump attacked Ford’s credibility on Twitter, and she was surely aware of the bullying she will endure as a result. The fact that their allegations have become public and Kavanaugh still remains a contender for the Supreme Court is also peak “pro-life” because it’s a blatant display of white male privilege, reminiscent of all-male panels testifying against access to birth control. It’s simply impossible to imagine an all-female panel testifying before Congress against life-saving medication primarily used by men, just as it’s simply impossible to imagine a woman nominee in Kavanaugh’s position holding her head high, insisting upon her innocence, and receiving support from senators who demand she be confirmed within the next few days without a thorough investigation.

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Tellingly, Harriet Miers withdrew as a Supreme Court nominee during the George W. Bush administration—not because of misconduct allegations, but in part because abortion opponents worried she didn’t have an explicit track record against abortion.

And, of course, abortion opponents are continuing to stand by Kavanaugh. Following the news of Ford’s allegations, Susan B. Anthony List Vice President Mallory Quigley released a statement beginning with, “We have no reason to change our support for Judge Kavanaugh,” and concluding that while both sides should be heard, the vote to confirm Kavanaugh should “continue without delay.”

A piece in HuffPost with the headline “Abortion Foes Say Christine Blasey Ford Should Be Heard” is great publicity for abortion opponents wishing to appear soft and gentle without yielding on substance, especially considering that the messages provided in the piece from anti-choice leaders include ongoing support for Kavanaugh’s nomination. To be clear, when they say they want her to “be heard” they are marching to the drumbeat led by Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who is going through hasty motions to feign concern so long as he can ensure a confirmation vote takes place in the immediate future—before more women such as Ramirez potentially come forward. No FBI investigation is taking place as it did for Anita Hill, who is now widely understood to have been mistreated by leaders of both parties during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings; the hearing format provided by Kavanaugh supporters is a sham checking of the box.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, told HuffPost, “We still see Judge Kavanaugh as the qualified candidate who is in the political battle of his life because of the abortion lobby’s efforts to keep Roe v. Wade the law of the land.” Not exactly sensitive, as Ford and her family have had to flee her home due to death threats.

Perhaps the most revealing statement from abortion opponents has come from Ross Douthat at the New York Times:

My suggestion is that if the cloud can’t be cleared [over Kavanaugh], the country’s interests and the interests of conservative partisans might converge. The G.O.P. is at risk of losing women voters by extraordinary margins under Trump, and the pro-life movement has no future, even if Roe is overturned, if its anti-abortion vision is seen as just the recrudescence of patriarchy. With both those problems in mind, shifting to a different, unclouded nominee—even, dare one say, a female nominee—seems like an adaptive move for the long run, however much stress it would create.

In other words, abortion opponents need Kavanaugh to do their bidding at the Supreme Court, but they also need voters to see them as woman-friendly over the long term because they know they are going to lose at the polls. Even in Ireland, which has historically been much more conservative on abortion, voters overturned the kind of total ban on abortion sought here with Kavanaugh or potential nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s rubber-stamp.

It is also vital to recall the sexual assault allegations about the man who appointed Kavanaugh in the first place—who has also been idolized by the bulk of the anti-choice movement. Though Donald Trump hardly seems to be the natural object of adoration for a movement that at least pretends to be about conservative sexual morality, abortion opponents have enthusiastically embraced him. Earlier this year, Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser called him “the most pro-life president in our nation’s history.”

Ultimately, the “pro-life” movement has a brand, and its thinkers and supporters know it. The brand is a white man who hates women, such as Donald Trump, the most “pro-life” president ever. The brand is a white man who is accused of sexually assaulting a woman in high school while powerful white male senators align behind him, rushing his nomination through as quickly as possible. The brand is also white women rushing to claim that the clearly disrespectful white man is a paragon of honor and integrity. That brand is correctly seen as a liability with a large number of women and the U.S. people. The rush to confirm Brett Kavanaugh is a brutal expression of white male dominance, thus making it totally and completely “pro-life.”

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