The end of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s career will leave the image-conscious, prestige-seeking justice’s legacy in tatters.
An entire generation of reasonables will remember not that Kennedy penned the flowery pro-love language of the gay marriage-legalizing Obergefell v. Hodges, but instead how the Reagan nominee ended his 30-year-long SCOTUS career by taking a steaming dump on public-sector unions, shrugging limply at travel restrictions based on religious prejudice, and gutting voting rights. Moreover, whatever nightmare zealot Donald Trump picks and the Senate then inevitably appoints to takes his seat will taint what remains of his legacy like a blood-soaked sock in a washer load of bedsheets.
But that’s nothing compared to what a Supreme Court made up of one more conservative justice can and almost certainly will do to American women’s lives.
With one more Supreme Court vote, the conservative minority in this country will have the power to uphold laws designed to force pregnant women into motherhood. A majority conservative court could force women who are carrying nonviable fetuses to term and deliver dead tissue that had long been suspended in the bodies of their grieving mothers. It could lead to certain forms of birth control being classified as abortifacients by state entities acting in bad faith, and contrary to medical fact. It could lead to the sort of legal environment that regularly kills women in countries with more restrictive laws. It could drive abortion—a practice as old as the human race—back underground to unsafe and unclean places.
It’s not unreasonable to predict that a court without a liberal swing vote on abortion rights cases could lead to an environment that will hurt women (and, ostensibly, the precious life their bodies are incubating) in numbers that should shame any person who believes themselves to be pro-life.
What’s coming all feels a little hateful to me, a woman, especially given the “pro-life” lobby’s abandonment of mothers. The forces cheering the prospect of another pro-life Trump appointee would seem a little less malignant if they spent any resources at all making voluntary motherhood more appealing. But they’re oddly silent on issues like paid maternity leave, equal pay, this country’s shameful black maternal mortality rate, affordable child care, and education funding for disenfranchised communities. Motherhood, in the eyes of the American right, is a blessed consequence of a sinful act of pleasure-seeking (or love). Either that, or they simply don’t think about what it means to force a woman who is pregnant to give birth.
And that’s the most depressing thing about Kennedy’s announcement. Kennedy isn’t an anti-choice activist. He just doesn’t care, at least not enough to remain.
Kennedy is not alone. There are plenty of men who passively agree with the Mike Pences and Trent Frankses and, as of 2015, the Donald Trumps of the world because, to them, women don’t matter—at least, not as much as a man does. Our very lives are considered by men in power a fringe issue or a way to raise money from dupes and ideologues. But to many women, there is no other issue than the constant low thrum of one’s own reproductive capability.
And that men like Kennedy either don’t see that or deliberately avoid acknowledging the messiness of it makes me—again, a woman of reproductive age—want to tie bricks around my ankles and fling myself off a pier.
The right to determine one’s reproductive fate is central to a woman’s self-determination in a way that perhaps somebody who doesn’t have a uterus can’t possibly understand, that Kennedy clearly doesn’t understand.
And for that, generations of women could suffer.