The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court has both sides of the abortion debate preparing for a political battle.
Deeply held convictions about a constitutional right protecting access to abortions quickly renewed a familiar debate nationally and in La Plata County when Kavanaugh was nominated to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The question is whether Roe v. Wade is settled law. I’ve been in law for 45 years, and Roe was decided in my second year of law school,” said Michael McLachlan, a Durango attorney and former state representative. “I think at this point, it’s up in the constitutional air.”
In 2000, McLachlan successfully argued to protect Colorado’s “Bubble Bill” before the Supreme Court. The high court upheld Colorado’s law providing an 8-foot buffer zone around people entering or departing health clinics. The bill was designed to prevent anti-abortion protesters from approaching and interacting with women entering a clinic.
The Supreme Court has been chipping away at access to abortion, McLachlan said. This term, he noted, the justices on a 5-4 vote struck down California’s Reproductive FACT Act. The law required health clinics licensed by California to provide information about free or low-cost abortion services.
The court’s ruling said the California law violated free speech rights of Christian-based facilities by forcing them to advertise for abortion in violation of their religious beliefs.
“I believe there’s a reasonably good chance that the right to have a medically secure abortion is more at risk with Kavanaugh on the court than Kennedy,” McLachlan said.
Colorado loosened restrictions on legal abortions six years before the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling providing constitutionally protected access to abortions nationwide. The reversal of Roe would not immediately make abortion illegal. Instead, the issue would shift to the states to determine whether they would allow abortions to continue within their borders.
Martha Sandner, executive director of LifeGuard, a Durango-based anti-abortion group that offers services to women during pregnancy and to women and children after birth, said Kavanaugh has “a record of protecting religious freedom and the rights of the pre-born.”
Local anti-abortion advocates, she said, are signing national petitions online to back Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court, but no locally specific political activity to back Kavanaugh’s nomination is underway.
Sandner said she has no expectations that Roe v. Wade would be overturned with Kavanaugh on the court. But she added, “We always have hope, and it would be wonderful if it was overturned.”
On the other side of the political spectrum, Vicki Cowart, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said, “The situation is dire.”
She said access to safe, legal abortions is vital for women.
“It’s not hyperbole to say women will die from this (overturning Roe),” she said. “Women will still have abortions but under unsafe environments – even dying.”
Two generations of women, she said, have grown up with access to safe, legal abortions if they chose. “Most women don’t know what it was like in pre-Roe times,” she said.
She said Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains is contacting senators in its area of coverage – Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and the southern portion of Nevada – especially Republicans, to push opposition to Kavanaugh.
Cowart said particular pressure is being placed on Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination because he represents a state that is solidly for abortion rights and he is up for re-election this year.
The day Kavanaugh was nominated, Cowart said, “was the day all of us who worked so hard on the 2016 election were fearful of. All of our fears came true.”
Leaving the legality of abortion up to the states, she said, is unacceptable for secure women’s health.
“Women should not have to depend on where they live or what ZIP code they are in to have access to all health care,” she said. “We don’t do that with other liberties.”