Ruth Bader Ginsburg Taught That the Fight for Justice Is With Us

With her gone, it is increasingly up to us—the people—to strengthen abortion access in this country.

[PHOTO: Pro-choice activists]
Demand “no” votes on any Supreme Court justice nomination until after Inauguration Day in January, but also think long term. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

For more on Ruth Bader Ginsburg, check out our special report.

Plank. I need you to get on the ground and start to plank.

Although Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death presents a unique threat to reproductive rights and other civil and human rights, there is a path forward for securing abortion access. We need to think long term.

I know it hurts. I know you are shaking. Please keep holding.

Throughout her life, Justice Ginsburg faced interminable odds; she had a mind ahead of her time and a focused determination to dissent and, yes, to win. This woman planked through all manner of obstacles into her 80s. With her gone, it is increasingly up to us—the people—to strengthen abortion access in this country.

We cannot give in to defeatism and despair. Filling Ginsburg’s seat before the election is a political dud for those most eager to rush their cards. It is hardly a foregone conclusion that the incredibly unpopular push to overturn Roe v. Wade should now proceed, leaving states to enact the first-trimester abortion bans the big “pro-life” lobby is now openly saying it wants.

But as we fight the battle of the moment, we also have to be clear about how we got to this position and what we must do after this terrifying time has passed.

For 47 years, the anti-abortion movement has been laser-focused on rebuilding the Supreme Court in its own medieval image, proving it is willing to lie, terrorize, and support literally anything to get there—including branding the guy who has presided over the torturous separation of migrant families as the “most effective pro-life president in American history,” the forcible sterilization of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees without their consent, and the sociopathically encouraged, needless coronavirus deaths of more than 200,000 people in the United States, disproportionately people of color.

Abortion rights have neither had nor followed a consistent long-term strategy of that magnitude. We need to be realistic about the scads of dollars wasted obsessing over branding and what to call ourselves: Some of them involve important and overdue reckonings over the meaningful inclusion of Black women, people of color, and transgender people, but others are clumsy attempts at respectability politics that merely serve to hide the ball that abortion is about sex and power, that undermining patriarchy and white supremacy and undoing centuries of oppression is hard work. Leaders were repeatedly caught playing the role of ladies auxiliary in political campaigns, pinning false hopes on the short-term power of electing folks who might be “less bad” on abortion without demanding a policy agenda in return.

A consistent policy agenda to increase access to abortion is key. Under the leadership of reproductive justice advocates, notably All* Above All, a vibrant grassroots effort is growing to demand full abortion funding. This strategy is increasingly backed and pushed by legislators at the federal and state levels.

We also must build political muscle and unapologetically flex it. The anti-abortion movement has held conservative legislators, and thus the marginalized people they couldn’t give two hoots about, by the gonads for decades. This, too, has begun to shift—Joe Biden reversing his position to back repeal of the Hyde Amendmentis evidence of the increasing political power of abortion rights on the left—and must continue until we have not fickle factions of legislators, but a real team ready to stand up for justice.

While the courts can’t and won’t save us, a unified political coalition must be called upon without fail to fix decades of damage within the courts to the standing of reproductive as well as other civil and human rights—no more voting for anti-abortion judges at any level, ever.

But the most important and powerful element of this effort is the core. Us.

The fight for justice is not in the hands of candidates or legislators or judges, nor is it ultimately determined by what they do or don’t do. A movement for self-determination rightfully rests upon self-determination.

If you have the desire and safety to do so, putting your body on the line and being willing to go to jail will undermine unjust laws restricting bodily autonomy. This will be a long fight, and investing in the well-being of the activist class is one of the most strategic investments the abortion rights movement can make. We need compassionate professionals who are bravely willing to provide abortions when their states strip their licenses to do so for bogus, hateful reasons. We need to allow space for joy to maintain direct action in the streets and in statehouses.

It also means that the work of increasing access to abortion begins with racial justice. Our country is in the midst of an overdue reckoning about the systemic racism that’s killing Black people and people of color. In particular, the leadership of Black women in the reproductive justice movement is a gift without which the struggle for dignity and justice, the rights to safety, to pleasure, and to parent or not parent, cannot occur.

Finally, we need to spread the word about self-managed abortion with pills and share legal harm-reduction techniques to assist people who end their own pregnancies so they are less likely to face unjust criminal punishment. Abortion pills undermine the long-term solvency of the anti-abortion movement more than anything else, because they are safe, they are effective, and they can’t be stopped. No matter what the law says, people can have safe, self-managed abortions in the United States when they follow World Health Organization protocols.

So keep planking. Don’t give up. Yes, demand “no” votes on any Supreme Court justice nomination until after Inauguration Day in January, but also think long term. Build that strength. Be brave. Use it.