Women’s Reproductive Rights: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?
The day Justice Kennedy announced his retirement, a sadness washed over many Americans. Kennedy’s retirement, for those who are not politically conservative, felt like the last pillar of hope falling. After losing the White House to our current administration, moderates and liberals looked more than ever to the Supreme Court to be the voice of reason; a saving grace. Now, Kennedy’s retirement threatens to transport America’s public policy back decades.
Kennedy was initially nominated as President Reagan’s second choice. Reagan’s first nomination, Robert H. Bork, was rejected during his Senate confirmation hearing after his personality and ideology became too divisive in the eyes of the Senate. Justice Kennedy stood juxtaposed to Bork as the less conservative and more amenable choice. Soon after his nomination, he was sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice on February 18, 1988.
Throughout his years on the Court, Kennedy gained the reputation as the “swing-vote” Justice. His record stands as a pattern of siding with liberal Justices on individual rights questions and with conservative Justices on everything else. For example, he voted with conservative Justices on issues concerning campaign finance restrictions and gun-ownership rights. However, he sided with liberal Justices on more than one occasion and often on landmark and divisive individual rights cases. These cases include, but are not limited to, decisions such as Obergefell v. Hodges and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. Kennedy’s decision in these particular cases made him into a personified judicial barrier and voice or reason in the Court for liberal-leaning Americans by ensuring protections for LGBTQ and Women’s Reproductive rights.
Now, looking forward, we await a new appointee from an administration bent on appointing an ultra-conservative Justice who will help overturn Roe v. Wade and restrict individual rights in the name of conservative beliefs and religious freedom. As a result, many women are seriously concerned that the Casey “undue burden” standard will be restricted to the point of a virtual ban on abortion or a true overturning of Roe. These fears are fully justified as Pro-Life outlets are praising Kennedy’s retirement as an opportunity to overturn Roe until the Court becomes a liberal majority again, which in the context of the Supreme Court could mean decades.
Further, let us remember: reproductive rights issues are public health issues. I have been fortunate to meet one of the plaintiffs in Roe and their experience makes it clear that overturning a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion means forcing women to have dangerous and life-threatening abortions. The plaintiff in Roe that I met was forced to go out of the country, to a place where they did not speak the language, with a piece of paper with an address scribbled on it, to meet a doctor they had never met, in a place they had never been. Forcing women into this position is dangerous and again, is a public health issue. Abortions will happen regardless of its legal status in the United States as it did before Roe. Regardless of whether it is a virtual ban or full ban that may happen, all we can hope for is that the Justices see this as a public health issue to protect women and not a religious or political crusade.
 Brent Kendall & Jess Bravin, Justice Anthony Kennedy Defined His Career at Center of Biggest Decisions, Wall St. J., (July 1, 2018), https://www.wsj.com/articles/supreme-court-justice-anthony-kennedy-announces-retirement-1530122570. (Kennedy himself has said that he hates this moniker, commenting at a Harvard Law School graduation that, “[t]he cases swing. I don’t.”).
 Planned Parenthood of Se. Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992).
 In an interview with NPR, the President of Students for Life, Kristan Hawkins, praised Justice Kennedy’s retirement as “a day that we’ve been waiting for” and further commented that “[o]ur goal in the pro-life movement has always been to make abortion illegal and unthinkable.” Sara McCammon, What Kennedy’s Retirement Means For Abortion Rights, Nat’l Pub. Radio, (July 1, 2018), https://www.npr.org/2018/06/28/624319208/what-justice-kennedy-s-retirement-means-for-abortion-rights.