Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ginsburg Reveals Possible Progressive Roots

Recently, in an interview with the New York Times, Justice Ginsburg gave a very startling and very telling answer to a question. The answer was leaked prior to the article here. Here's the New York Times interview. The entirety is worth a read to understand more of Justice Ginsburg's judicial philosophy.

The section I'm most interested in should be given with some context:
Q: The case ties together themes of women’s equality and reproductive freedom. The court split those themes apart in Roe v. Wade. Do you see, as part of a future feminist legal wish list, repositioning Roe so that the right to abortion is rooted in the constitutional promise of sex equality?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Oh, yes. I think it will be.

Q: If you were a lawyer again, what would you want to accomplish as a future feminist legal agenda?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Reproductive choice has to be straightened out. There will never be a woman of means without choice anymore. That just seems to me so obvious. The states that had changed their abortion laws before Roe [to make abortion legal] are not going to change back. So we have a policy that affects only poor women, and it can never be otherwise, and I don’t know why this hasn’t been said more often.

Q: Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid for abortions for poor women?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae — in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.
To understand why that last answer is so shocking, you'll have to know some history. There was a concept popular in the early 1900's called Eugenics. The idea was that undesirables, such as those with genetic defects, members of what were at the time considered "inferior" races, and so forth, would be discouraged from reproducing, while those who were genetically desirable wold be encouraged to have children. The concept was a part of the Progressive movement, and proponents included Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Progressives, of course, believed in enlightened fascism for the benefit of humankind, and the movement was popular until WWII showed the ugly, logical end of their ideology, and it fell from favor with the public.

What's shocking, then, is decades after many ideas of the progressive movement were discredited, Justice Ginsburg still thought Roe v. Wade was about eliminating undesirable populations through abortion. Note at the time she was not a Supreme Court justice, she was teaching at Columbia University, on ACLU's board and was also general counsel. That interpretation of Roe v. Wade is eugenics, and she expected that we would naturally fund abortions through Medicaid to reduce the poor population. If that doesn't sound horrific enough for you, think of it from an elitist authoritarian socialist point of view: "Those dirty lower classes breed like roaches. We really should use tax money to help them murder their young, like drowning unwanted kittens in a sack in order to avoid paying for their social needs in the future."

It is not entirely clear from the answer if the understanding Justice Ginsburg had of Roe v. Wade was because she shared that progressive attitude toward the poor and other "undesirables," but given how she rules as a member of SCOTUS, it seems likely that she does.

If so, it should be less surprising that our last few presidential administrations have incorporated progressive ideas into their governance. Apparently, there's been an unbroken line if progressive ideologists building their movement quietly until its culmination, which may very well be the present administration.

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