On Tuesday, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a bill into law that effectively criminalizes abortion, banning the procedure as soon as a heartbeat is detected—which can happen as early as six weeks and often before a person may even realize they are pregnant. While the so-called “heartbeat bill” is unconstitutional on its face and sure to be met with a legal challenge, Republican governors in Mississippi, Ohio and Kentucky recently signed similar laws. The fate of these laws now rest with federal judges, a group that is becoming increasingly conservative under Trump.
On the same day Kemp signed the bill, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand issued an unusual—but important—pledge, promising that if elected president, she would only nominate judges “who will uphold Roe v. Wade and protect reproductive rights.”
“I realize that traditionally, presidents and presidential candidates haven’t drawn lines in the sand on judicial appointments,” Gillibrand wrote in a Medium post. “That tradition ended when Mitch McConnell obstructed the nomination process and stole a Supreme Court seat, when Donald Trump nominated dozens of ideologically extreme judges hand-picked by far-right think tanks, and when Republicans confirmed a Supreme Court Justice who is credibly accused of sexual misconduct.”
“As president,” she continued, “I will only nominate judges — including Supreme Court justices — who will commit to upholding Roe v. Wade as settled law and protect women’s reproductive rights.”
In addition to nominating ultra-conservative Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, one of the less-discussed aspects of the Trump administration’s assault on reproductive rights is his decision to stack the federal court system with anti-choice judges. Quietly, Trump has been placing ultra-conservatives in decades-long terms at a rate faster than any president in modern United States history. This means that his administration’s position on abortion will continue to shape the nation long after Trump and his policies are gone.
This is playing out in Louisiana, which only has one abortion clinic left. In 2014, Republicans pushed through an admitting privileges law similar to a Texas law struck-down by the Supreme Court in 2016. While the Center for Reproductive Rights successfully challenged the law in district court, a panel of three judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law in 2018. Now, the Center for Reproductive Rights is hoping that the Supreme Court, which delivered a temporary injunction, will take up the appeal.
“The right to safe and legal abortion in Louisiana is already hanging on by a thread and this is precisely the type of situation where the Supreme Court is supposed to come and make sure that their rights are preserved,” TJ Tu, an attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told Jezebel in January. “If we do not get a stay and this law goes into effect, it is highly likely that Louisiana could become an abortion desert in the very near future, and those poor and rural women in Louisiana are going to have to some how find their way to far away places just to exercise their constitutional rights and get the healthcare they need.”
The ongoing battle illustrates why Gillibrand’s pledge is important. Every Democrat running in 2020 should be willing to promise to use abortion rights as a basic litmus test for the fitness of any judicial nominee.