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Me Too Leaders: Kavanaugh Disregards Women’s Bodily Autonomy

Madeleine Schmidt

Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too movement, said it’s no coincidence that abortion rights and sexual violence are colliding as congressional Republicans try to ram through Brett Kavanaugh's nomination. 

That the U.S. Supreme Court nominee accused of attempted rape could be the jurist who ends legal abortion in the United States is hardly a coincidence, leaders of the Me Too movement said at a recent reproductive rights conference. 

Sexual assault and stripping people of their reproductive rights go hand in hand, advocates said last week at a Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains event in Denver. The Planned Parenthood event featured Tarana Burke, who founded the Me Too movement more than a decade ago, before it went viral last year, and who was recently honored as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.

Burke condemned Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the treatment of Christine Blasey Ford, who was driven out of her home due to death threats last week after she alleged that Kavanaugh had tried to rape her when they were in high school.

Burke said it’s no coincidence that issues surrounding abortion rights and sexual violence are colliding as congressional Republicans try to ram through Kavanaugh’s nomination. 

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“There’s so many intersections between the two because ultimately, it’s about bodily autonomy,” Burke said. “It’s about people’s right to say what they get to do with their bodies.”

“The issues are married to each other, and they overlap in so many different ways,” she added, pointing out that this is true for women who become pregnant after an assault.

Planned Parenthood also honored Colorado state Rep. Faith Winter, a Democrat, as their 2018 Champion of Choice.

Winter became a local leader of the Me Too movement after she went public with sexual harassment allegations against a fellow state lawmaker that led to his expulsion. Her story was the first of a string of allegations against several state lawmakers, exposing a culture of rampant sexual misconduct at Colorado’s capitol.

“When we planned this event, we had no idea what the headlines would be this week,” said Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains CEO Vicki Cowart. “We had no idea how these worlds would be colliding.”

Cowart drew a connection between Kavanaugh’s views on reproductive rights and his alleged history of sexual assault. Kavanaugh sided against an immigrant teenager seeking abortion care, and has hinted that Roe v. Wade is not settled law. 

“Make no mistake. The allegations against Kavanaugh amplify what we already know about him,” she said. “He does not believe that women should have the right to determine what happens to their bodies.”

Winter said her reasons for speaking out about being sexually harassed and her reasons for supporting reproductive choice are one in the same. “Both movements are about recognizing a woman as a whole person and not an object,” said Winter. “We are not your object to harass. We are not your object to assault. We are not your object to rape. And we are not your object to decide when and if and how we chose to have children.”

Winter is running for one of the most hotly contested seats in Colorado’s state senate, a seat that could determine whether Democrats can gain control of the entire state legislature. Winter’s opponent is Republican incumbent Beth Martinez Humenik, who won the seat by 896 votes during the last election in 2014.

Burke said survivors of sexual violence could prove to be a powerful voting base.

“I think of us as a constituency,” Burke said. “If we rise up together and use the violence we’ve endured as a unifier and not political parties, and if we say we are only going to vote for people who are working extra hard to make our community less vulnerable to sexual violence, we are a powerful constituency.”

Burke offered encouragement for survivors who might be re-traumatized after hearing Ford’s story and seeing how Republicans have treated her, telling them to focus instead on how many people are rallying behind Ford.

“From Planned Parenthood to the Me Too movement to the Women’s March to Time’s Up, everybody is poised and ready to not let this go unchecked,” Burke said. “It’s not going to happen under our watch without raising hell about it, and so I hope that while what’s happening is discouraging, that people draw hope from what they see in response to it.”

Winter also offered support for survivors who might be discouraged from coming forward amid the backlash against Kavanaugh’s accusers. “It’s scary, but there is nothing stronger than a woman who has been broken and healed,” she said. “You’re stronger than you think you are. And you have more support than you will ever know.”

Over the weekend, another woman, Deborah Ramirez, went public with an accusation of sexual assault against Kavanaugh from when they were in college together at Yale University. 

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