What will tolerance look like under the matriarchy?
Before Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the Notorious RBG and celebrated for pioneering gender equality, she was opposed by women’s groups for critiquing Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that held a woman's right to an abortion falls within the right to privacy implied by the Fourteenth Amendment. Ginsberg believed reproductive rights should be recognized by the courts as a matter of equal protection.
Depriving women of reproductive autonomy is discrimination on the basis of sex, Ginsburg argued. The right to privacy and its penumbra is a weaker constitutional foundation for such an important and existential issue, she believed.
In a lecture given in 1984, according to an article by Jill LePore in The New Yorker, Ginsburg described Roe as a “storm center” that “sparked public opposition and academic criticism, in part, I believe, because the Court ventured too far in the change it ordered and presented an incomplete justification for its actions.”
In March of 1993 as a member of the D.C. Court of Appeals and amid Operation Rescue protests of abortion clinics, Ginsburg delivered the James Madison Lecture on Constitutional Law and again publicly critiqued the legal foundations of Roe as being unstable. Shortly thereafter Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg to the U.S. Supreme Court and women’s groups worked behind the scenes to ambush her nomination because of it.
Women who identified as feminists opposed Ruth Bader Ginsburg — labeling her as anti-choice and anti-women — because she expressed a different perspective that did not match their talking points. Thankfully for all who cherish equal rights Ginsburg survived the backroom backstabbing.
LePore’s story in The New Yorker about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s ascent to the Supreme Court despite efforts by some powerful women to sabotage it is a cautionary tale. Because some either misconstrued Ginsberg’s remarks about abortion rights or simply could not tolerate views that did not precisely line up with their own, America almost lost the opportunity Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s confirmation presented to the cause of equality.
There is room for debate within the #metoo movement about what should be the response to stories of abuse of power just like there is room for debate about whether a woman’s right to choose should be rooted in the equal protection clause or is grounded in a right to privacy.
Some feminists believe every #metoo story has equal weight and some like me believe its fair to vet stories for their value in advancing the cause of justice.
During the recent midterm elections as a columnist and civil rights lawyer with decades of experience litigating sex discrimination and other claims for women, including presently a significant case against the LePage Administration, I expressed an opinion about the value of one particular #metoo story and concluded it did not advance the cause of justice because it was weak. Additionally I expressed concerns that some of the allegations made against then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh lacked the credibility and substance of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations and would undermine the effort to defeat the confirmation.
For that the leader of a prominent women’s group actively worked to have me fired.
It’s wonderful that a record number of women have been elected to office and that Maine elected its first woman governor. Its foolish and dangerous to insist that women do or must think alike.
Groupthink is not solidarity. The #metoo movement is big enough for differences of opinion and its importance demands critical exploration.