U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was honored by the Veteran Feminists of America
this summer in "A Salute to Feminist Lawyers 1963-1975," held on
June 9 at the Harvard Club in New York City.
While the tribute to Ginsburg
especially reflected on her packed career as a lawyer from 1969 to 1980
in seeking legal redress for sex discrimination, Ginsburg also answered
audience questions, including ones on the health of Roe v. Wade
today. Below are her informal comments about the state of reproductive
To one question about the prospects
and future of Roe v. Wade, Justice Ginsburg responded:
"People tend to think
that Roe v Wade has to be preserved at all costs. What has to
be preserved is the right of a woman to have access to the means to
control her own reproductive capacity.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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"And it has to be much more
than the bare right of a woman of means to obtain an abortion
…. Our government has a policy that there is no Medicaid reimbursement
for abortion, that there is for childbirth. I think that the concentration
really should be at the legislative level, in the states, and in Congress,
assuming the composition of Congress will continue to change, as it
"But I would never put my
faith in one single Supreme Court decision.
"The work really has to start
at the local level. I remember once, in New York, trying to find
how hard it was for a poor woman to get an IUD. And it was terribly
hard. That’s what we should be concerned about."
To a second questioner who
asked whether lawyers should work to recast the legal basis of reproductive
freedom from the right to privacy set out in Roe to one based
on the thirteenth amendment against slavery or the fourteenth amendment,
Justice Ginsburg said:
"I think lawyers have
argued that — in the Casey case, for example. It’s not privacy,
in the sense that ‘This something I want to do and hide from everybody,
and, seal myself in a cocoon.’ It’s autonomy (which) is the
idea; it’s a woman’s right to choose.
"And I have criticized the
Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade — not, of course, for the result.
But that decision is heavily oriented to doctors. It’s the doctor’s
choice as much as the woman’s that the government shouldn’t regulate
what doctors decide is best for the patient.
"But I think the notion of
a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, that has come
more and more into the … more recent cases.
"Of course, the most recent
case is a flip-flop. The court had (held) that Nebraska’s so-called ‘partial birth’ law … was unconstitutional because it didn’t
preserve — have a reservation for — a woman’s health. Then
Congress passed a law to the same effect, and the Court, 5-4, upheld
that federal law.
"What was the difference?
One person. Justice (Sandra Day) O’Connor was no longer on the
"But I think the notion (is)
that it isn’t just some private act; it
is a woman’s right to control
… her own life."