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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

Amy Coney Barrett Could Be the Final, Dystopian 'Girlboss'

The conservative justice is about to build her empire by decimating the human rights of women and pregnant people.

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We’re sorry to inform you that it’s looking likely that Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the religious conservative who Senate Republicans jammed through in a month after Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, will be the one to write the majority opinion that effectively ends legal abortion in the US. If you’re surprised by this, you shouldn’t be — she’s the perfectly warped, dystopian kind of girlboss Republicans would be using to hammer the final nail in the coffin that is women and pregnant people’s human rights in this country.

As the Supreme Court hears oral arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, a case on the constitutionality of a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi and the legal right to abortion at large, experts and legal scholars believe Barrett will be the one to take the lead on overturning Roe v. Wade. Of course she is! Barrett is the ultimate faux-feminist capitalist who weaponizes her gender to prop herself up while tearing down other women who lack her wealth, power, and conspicuous white privilege.

You’ll recall that much of her Senate confirmation hearings last year revolved around her being a mother of seven children while still excelling in her professional career — the implicit message of this not-so-humble brag was that if she could do it, then all of the selfish pregnant people who have had abortions because of their careers or economic circumstances could have done it, too. Barrett’s supporters have even weaponized her children, two of whom are Black and one who has a disability, to deny accusations of racist politics, or possibly justify support for so-called race, sex, and disability-selective abortion bans that could soon reach the Supreme Court.

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It’s not exactly a secret where Barrett falls on abortion. She was hand-picked by the Federalist Society — an extremist, conservative legal group whose whole end goal is to ban and criminalize all abortion — to be former President Trump’s pick to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, just days before the 2020 election. The painful irony of Barrett’s inevitable role in ending legal abortion is her predecessor’s role as not just an abortion rights icon, but a pioneering, feminist legal thought leader whose numerous decisions on gender equality helped lift generations of women and pregnant people above second-class citizenship. Barrett, on the other hand, was added to the Supreme Court with the explicit purpose of hurling us backwards, while wielding her gender and motherhood as a cudgel to deflect against accusations of sexism.

Barrett is already raising eyebrows with her questions and commentary during Wednesday’s oral arguments for Dobbs, as she told lawyers for Jackson Women’s Health that safe haven laws allow for people to give up newborn babies within 48 hours of giving birth. Following Barrett’s logic, this disproves advocates’ arguments that Mississippi’s ban would lead to, in her words, “forced parenting and forced motherhood,” and “hinder women’s access to the workplace and to equal opportunities.” Because apparently it needs to be said, maybe adoption can be an alternative for parenting — but not forced pregnancy and birth.

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Barrett’s condescending questions and analysis are hardly the only red flag around where she stands on reproductive rights, pregnancy, and gender equality. In 2006, she signed onto a newspaper ad calling Roe v. Wade “barbaric.” Between 2010 and 2016, she was a member of the University Faculty for Life at the University of Notre Dame. In 2018, while serving as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, she overturned a jury award to a teenager who was allegedly raped in jail by a guard. The cruelty Barrett rendered upon a teenage survivor is inseparable from her approach to abortion and reproductive rights, which aims to impose pregnancy and childbirth on mostly poor people of color without their consent, and deny them dignity, autonomy, and humanity.

As the conservative wing of the Supreme Court races to protect unborn fetuses and embryos under the 14th Amendment, the consequences of this would be wide-ranging and devastating. Abortion would be banned. IVF, which involves the disposal of unused embryos, would also probably be banned. All pregnancies would be surveilled and criminalized — even more so than they already are — and all pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriages and stillbirths, subject to criminal suspicion. During Wednesday’s oral arguments, Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted childbirth is 14 times more risky to pregnant people’s lives than abortion; additionally, states like Mississippi, where abortion is more restricted, have disproportionately higher maternal mortality and complication rates.

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If Barrett is the deciding vote to reverse Roe, these are the realities she’ll worsen for women and pregnant people, contrary to right-wing images and narratives that have enshrined her as a symbol of women’s empowerment. Barrett is perhaps empowering in the same way white mothers who leveraged their whiteness, femininity, and motherhood to advocate for school segregation and “protect” their children throughout the 1960s, were empowering. Like her predecessors, Barrett is weaponizing her identity, and even her children, to consolidate power, and advance an inherently white supremacist outcome of policing and coercing the reproduction of disproportionately pregnant people of color. There’s a reason ‘60s segregationists regrouped to become anti-abortion zealots in the 1970s: There is a direct link between these inextricably conjoined movements.

It can’t be ignored that as a white mother of seven, Barrett is celebrated by the same people who shame and police mothers of color for the families they build. Barrett’s conservative, anti-abortion supporters exploit every opportunity to praise her for having seven children, while simultaneously writing off low-income mothers of similarly large families of color as “welfare queens,” and supporting welfare caps that deny them public assistance.

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Barrett’s gender, if anything, arguably makes her role in effectively dismantling the human rights of women and pregnant people that much more insidious. Like all women who manage to acquire any power in patriarchal society, she rode on the progress and rights that were fought for and won by previous women, and the sacrifices and pioneering activism of primarily women of color and LGBTQ people. Now, she’s using this power to take away theirs.

If Barrett’s supporters hoped the Justice would find a reliable fanbase among today’s young feminists, to whom they were obviously pandering with their tone-deaf and bizarre “Notorious ACB” merch (a riff on the affectionate “Notorious RBG” nickname), they severely misread the cultural moment. That is, a moment rife with disillusionment with the girlboss who thrives and capitalizes on exploitative systems. Today, even women who do champion progressive policies and values are subject to intense scrutiny if they project even a whiff of so-called “identity politics” by invoking their gender or race. The same right-wing that largely created and propelled the term “identity politics” into mainstream prominence now expects us to see a white woman who decimates our rights as a feminist hero — and that is arguably the final level of the great girlboss grift.