Opinion | Civil Rights

Know the issues in this election

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My social media feed has been filled with lovely tributes over the life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her incredible contributions to society. But I also sadly noticed comments that dismiss her as a "baby murderer." Such ideas fully mischaracterize this legal icon and reveal the ignorance of the complexity of abortion law in our country.

Ginsburg argued cases at the Supreme Court before she decided cases there, and her focus was on gender equality. She won several important cases that went on toward turning the tide over equal rights for women. Everyone should read about these cases to more fully appreciate how much women today owe to her brilliant legal mind.

Ginsburg did not argue Roe versus Wade. She had a very different client around the same time. Susan Struck was an Air Force captain serving in Vietnam as a nurse. When she became pregnant, the Air Force gave her the choice to terminate her pregnancy or face discharge. Partly because of her Catholic beliefs, Struck wanted to bear the child and place her for adoption. Ginsburg was the lawyer who fought for her.

Ginsburg believed the Supreme Court had to consider this case because it showed that government interference in the choice of a woman to bear a child or not was a violation of both her rights to due process as well as to equal protection under the law. If the Supreme Court decided that the government could compel pregnancy, as many states that limit abortion access do now, without concerns about equal protection claims, would it then also be easier for the government to compel abortion?

"One thing that conspicuously distinguishes women from men is that only women become pregnant," Ginsburg said at her confirmation hearings in 1993. "If you subject a woman to disadvantageous treatment on the basis of her pregnant status, which was what was happening to Captain Struck, you would be denying her equal treatment under the law." She went on to explain, "The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to the life of a woman and to her dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices."

The partisan climate around the Supreme Court and the divisive rhetoric on abortion should not be viewed as politics as usual. The battle over the nomination is much greater than whether the seat vacated by Ginsburg is filled by a more conservative or liberal justice. The much greater concern is what President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell have done to the Supreme Court as one of our most important institutions.

It should not be like this. We need justices chosen for their experience, their brilliant legal minds, and their commitment to justice for all, rather than their overt leanings. We should be able to disagree about particular judicial philosophies and outcomes, while still respecting the institution as legitimate and trustworthy. We do not even have to settle for only the moderate judges. Justice Antonin Scalia and Ginsburg were friends who shared mutual respect, despite differences on many issues.

This is what we must fight for when it comes to the Supreme Court. If we continue to allow the legitimacy of the federal judiciary to be destroyed by the rampant partisan climate of the last four years, we will lose much more than a coveted seat on the Supreme Court. These divisive politics threaten to destroy our entire constitutional democracy.

If abortion is important to you in this election, then study it well before you make your decision. Its complexity runs far beyond the law. I once heard a top student at my law school say in class, "I will be honest. I do not care at all about the health of women. I just want to stop abortions." That notion is not moral. It is not ethical. It is not Christian. It is not even conservative. It is totally wrong. We must demand better from ourselves, from each other, from our leaders, and from our justices.

Diana Bate Hardy is a former attorney who runs @CivicsEdForFamilies, a social media account which promotes civics education and engagement.

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