NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reflected earlier this week on issues ranging from abortion rights to young activists to numerous cases including Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision guaranteeing abortion as part of a woman’s right to privacy.
Captivating her audience, she spoke on Sept. 9 for about an hour at the 30th anniversary celebration of the International Women’s Health Coalition, a New York-based organization that promotes and protects the sexual and reproductive rights and health of women and young people globally.
Since joining the Supreme Court in 1993 as the second female justice, Ginsburg has earned a following thanks to her position on various cases, and has also become a bit of an online celebrity. Her scathing 35-page dissent on the recent Hobby Lobby case, which cleared the way for employers to deny insurance coverage of contraceptives to female workers on religious grounds, stirred up admiration from some younger women. One of them created a Tumblr celebrating her as the “Notorious R.B.G.,” a blog that puns on the name of the late rapper Notorious B.I.G. and collects Ginsburg news and tribute items.
The 81-year-old is the oldest member of the court, but she recently said she’s not stepping down any time soon. “All I can say is that I am still here and likely to remain for a while,” she told Yahoo News.
Here are some of her thoughts expressed during the event.
On abortion rights:
“Two cases . . . showed that the court really didn’t get it in Roe v. Wade . . . The case was could a woman get welfare for an abortion, could she get funds from the government just as she could if she chose childbirth, a much more expensive [proposition]. And when the court said the government doesn’t have to provide abortion to poor women, it’s a decision that even today is inexplicable to me. What the court was saying, yes there’s a woman’s right to have an abortion if she can pay for it and if she can’t pay for it she doesn’t have that choice.” (Read the court decision.)
“It’s obvious. A woman’s control of her own body, her choice, whether, when to reproduce, that’s essential to women and it’s most basic to women’s health to have the ability to have access to whatever contraception she chooses.”
On young women and abortion rights:
“It [abortion rights] also requires women to care about it and that’s one of the things that’s of concern. I think of my older daughter who grew up when women’s rights were vibrant and there was a book, “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” But I don’t see the young women today having that same energy, caring as much, and maybe it’s because they know that it’s not going to be a problem for them. It’s again the difference between people who have the resources to get what they want and those who don’t. So the young women may think, not my problem, I can get an abortion if I wanted. And it will always be that way, even in the worst case of Roe v. Wade being overruled. Well there are a number of states that would not change. There were four states that had allowed abortion in the first trimester–New York, California, Alaska, Hawaii–those states and several others will not go back to the way it once was. Again it’s a question of can I have an abortion if I need it? Do you have enough money for a plane ticket or train ticket?
On the Hobby Lobby decision:
“One couldn’t think of a health care package today responding to the needs of people in the community that wouldn’t include contraceptives. So maybe the reaction to Hobby Lobby will get maybe even some of my colleagues to think a little more than they did. When the court goes the wrong way it can be a very effective tool. Think of the Lilly Ledbetter case . . . [After that court decision] Congress in record speed, with overwhelming majorities on both sides of the aisle, passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and Obama signed it as his first act. So sometimes good can come from a bad decision. And maybe Hobby Lobby will turn out that way. I wish I could say that I would look to Congress for a quick fix.”
“The court has stepped into a minefield with that decision . . . One example that I gave, there is a religion, probably more than one, that believes women should not be allowed to work, single women should not be allowed to work without her father’s consent and married women shouldn’t be allowed to work without her husband’s consent. That’s a deeply held religious belief. Does that mean that the woman is no longer protected by Title VII [which protects against employment discrimination on the basis of race and color, national origin, sex and religion] because she wanted a job and she didn’t have [permission]? . . . We will see.” (Read the decision.)
On where we are today on gender discrimination:
“We were amazingly successful in getting rid of the explicit sex lines in the law but that there is more subtle discrimination. One of the biggest problems to overcome is what’s been called unconscious bias . . . Unconscious bias continues to exist, less so than once, but it’s still there. And another problem. I have often said that women will not achieve true equality until men are as concerned as women are with the raising of the next generation.”