Kavanaugh's nomination is bad for women of color

Kavanaugh's nomination is bad for women of color
© Greg Nash

Many Americans have realized how dangerous and unfit Brett Kavanaugh is to serve on the Supreme Court. But we need to make sure that our elected officials realize this and don’t confirm him.

Fighting Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court is an uphill battle that many believe is not winnable. But if we hope to protect the rights of immigrant women, women of color and low-income women, we cannot afford to give up the fight — and we will take the fight to our senators.

I am no stranger to these kinds of uphill battles for reproductive justice. In June 2016, I traveled with dozens of other community leaders from Illinois to Indianapolis, Ind., to show our support to a young Indian-American woman named Purvi Patel as she faced her appeal hearing regarding infanticide charges.


As I sat in the courtroom, I was struck by the extent to which Purvi’s fate was quite literally in the hands of three judges.

Purvi Patel was a young, pregnant AAPI woman who gave birth to a stillborn child. After disposing of the fetus, she sought medical help at a local hospital for postpartum bleeding.

She ended up being reported to the authorities and convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges of feticide and neglect of a dependent, which were brought against her by the State of Indiana.

That day in court, we all sat at the edge of our seats listening to Purvi’s lawyer make a case to the Indiana Court of Appeals to overturn the conviction. Thankfully, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled to overturn, a decision that changed Purvi’s life.

Our courts have the power to deliver justice to disadvantaged people when their government and society fails them. Patel should have never spent a day in jail. Unfortunately, people of color and low-income individuals in this country are often subject to criminal investigations and unfair treatment because of stereotypes, biases, and racism — and women of color are no exception to the rule. This includes the criminalization of decisions we choose to make about our own bodies. And that is why it is critical that we have judges at all levels who will deliver justice instead of serving political interests.

This past spring and summer, the highest courts in our nation delivered decisions that have negatively impacted marginalized communities, especially immigrant women of color — and with Kavanaugh on the bench, we could see a continuation in a pattern of Supreme Court decisions that hurt our communities.

First and foremost, family separation has been tearing families apart. Within the AAPI community, Southeast Asian Americans have experienced significant deportations at the hands of ICE.

Family separation increases risks of distress and mental illness — particularly in children separated from their parents. Kavanaugh is a candidate who may rubber stamp Trump’s policies toward immigrants and immigrant families and we can’t let that happen.

The reproductive health and wellbeing of immigrant women are at also particular risk if Kavanaugh is confirmed. For instance, a young 17 year-old undocumented immigrant woman identified as “Jane Doe” was initially denied the right to an abortion. In her words, “I knew immediately what was best for me then, as I do now — that I'm not ready to be a parent.”

Yet the Department of Health and Human Services — under the Trump administration — not only disrespected Jane Doe’s personal agency, but also denied her a medical service that she had a constitutional right to.

The case was taken to court, and while the D.C. circuit court ruled in the woman’s favor, the Supreme Court later vacated the appeals court ruling and sent the case back to the lower courts, again failing to defend immigrant women’s constitutional right to an abortion.

Women of color are facing a crisis in accessing accurate reproductive information as well. In June, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) in the NIFLA v. Becerra case — striking down a California state law that required fake women’s health centers, or “crisis pregnancy centers,” to disclose that they are not licensed medical facilities and explain that they do not provide abortions.

Recent decisions, such as in the Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME, have hurt workers rights, weakening the power of collective bargaining and making it less likely that employees will have important benefits — such as paid sick and parental leave. These decisions, in particular, hurt working mothers, immigrant women, and women who do not speak English.

Research has found that unionized workers make about $2.00 more per hour than non-unionized workers, and have more than double the health and retirement-plan coverage rates for the 15 lowest-wage occupations. Without unions, immigrant women and women of color are likely to be paid less and have fewer benefits and protections within the workplace — making raising children and supporting a family even more difficult.

All of these cases were huge setbacks for women across our country who need workers rights, better immigration policy, and truthful and medically safe reproductive care.

As I learned in Purvi Patel’s appeal process, we must all recognize the importance and the level of impact judges have in our lives. Judges like Brett Kavanaugh have voted on decisions that have changed women’s lives for the worse by taking away their access to abortion, making contraceptives more difficult to obtain, or suppressing workers rights.

That’s why women of color need to stand up and speak out about the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court — it will have a devastating on women of color. We can continue to expect a lack of consideration for women’s health if an anti-woman, anti-reproductive rights candidate like Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court.

We have to fight this nomination because so much is at stake for  women of color and immigrant women — and that’s why we especially need lawmakers to do their jobs and speak up.

To our senators: now is the time for you to exercise your votes against any candidate for the Supreme Court who would not only roll back abortion protections, but also work against women, communities of color, and workers.

Make no mistake: If Kavanaugh is confirmed, women of color, immigrant women and low-income women stand to be hurt the most. Kavanaugh’s vote could be responsible for not only taking away our rights, but also autonomy over our bodies and our families. When the highest court in the land has the power to enable this type of behavior, we all suffer.

We are standing up today and every day because we deserve a day in what happens to our bodies and our families. No matter what this administration says or does, all women deserve the right to humanity and personal agency — and we need a Supreme Court justice who will protect these fundamental rights.

Sung Yeon Choimorrow is the executive director at the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum.