The debate surrounding abortion rights is picking up again with the recent death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and with a 40 Days for Life campaign starting this past week in Schenectady.
Ginsburg advocated for women’s rights — including financial independence, access to education, and reproductive rights — throughout her time on the court. On Saturday, President Donald Trump is expected to formally announce Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to replace the late justice. She is a conservative nominee who supports restricting abortion rights.
According to Zoe Oxley, a political science professor at Union College, it’s a possibility.
“It’s very likely that Donald Trump will nominate someone who is clearly in favor of restricting abortion rights, perhaps overturning Roe v. Wade. If that type of justice gets nominated and then confirmed then there would be clearly five justices on the court who are in favor of some level of restriction of abortion rights,” Oxley said.
That doesn’t sit well with politicians like U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who said in a statement: “We lost a daughter of New York, and a role model to countless women, including myself. We have to honor her legacy and fight to protect access to health care, reproductive rights and to uphold Roe v. Wade.”
It’s also concerning to Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides abortions among other healthcare services.
“Justice Ginsburg fought for equality, immigrant justice, LGBTQ+ freedoms, and health care for all – including access to safe, legal abortion. During a time when we should be honoring her legacy, we, unfortunately, are forced to defend it,” said Pascale Bernard, the vice president of organizing and political affairs at Planned Parenthood of Greater New York Action Fund.
Amidst a national discussion on the topic, an anti-abortion 40 Days for Life campaign kicked off earlier this week in Schenectady, with volunteers holding vigils outside of Planned Parenthood on State Street.
This is the 22nd campaign of its kind that has taken place in the Electric City. They’re typically held twice a year, in the spring and fall, led by Viviane Strain. She said she was first was attracted to the 40 Days for Life, which is a national not-for-profit organization that runs anti-abortion campaigns, because it was peaceful.
“We’re a very peaceful campaign; we are not there to point the finger at anybody,” Strain said.
During the campaign, volunteers stand vigil and pray outside of Planned Parenthood seven days a week between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. for 40 days.
“You can imagine you need a lot of people. We don’t always fill up all the hours. Sometimes people come in groups but we do expect to have at least two people per time period,” Strain said.
Even with the pandemic, she said people were more than willing to volunteer and be a part of the vigils.
“Actually, throughout the pandemic, a lot of Christians have come out and prayed even more so than usual. We’ve had great participation and if that’s the indication then we’re hoping for a bigger campaign,” Strain said.
According to Jacquelyn Marrero, the director of media relations for Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, the 40 Days for Life campaign is not peaceful.
“This is not a peaceful act based on prayer. It’s an aggressive intimidation tactic designed to block patients who are trying to access vital sexual and reproductive health care,” Marrero said.
When asked about whether the campaign has been impacted by the recent Supreme Court news, Strain said “that has nothing to do with it.”
“Our campaign is there to inform women about what abortion is and to pray that hearts will be changing,” Strain said.
According to her, there’s evidence that women suffer after having an abortion: “We need to help women, not hurt them. Abortion hurts women,” Strain said.
Planned Parenthood, which has continued to offer health services in New York during the pandemic, through telehealth and in-person visits, sees it differently.
“Abortion is an essential part of comprehensive health care and must remain safe, legal and accessible during the pandemic and well after the confirmation of Justice Ginsburg’s replacement,” Bernard said.
Local politicians and candidates have varying viewpoints on reproductive rights.
Congressional candidate Liz Joy of Glenville, who is running for the 20th district seat vs. incumbent Paul Tonko, said she’s “pro-life from the womb to the elderly.”
“My concentration is on bringing down the abortion rate in New York State,” Joy told the Gazette in a recent interview.
She’s hoping to decrease that number by increasing funding to pregnancy centers.
“. . . nobody’s talking about this perspective. I’d like to bring those numbers all the way down as much as we possibly can and give those voices a chance to grow in our state from the womb all the way to the elderly,” Joy said.
Some local officials say they are pro-choice and are frustrated that there’s a debate still surrounding the topic 47 years after Roe v. Wade.
“At this day and age, I can’t believe that it’s still at risk,” said Schenectady City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo. “It’s one of those things where you’re like ‘Really? I’m still talking about this?’ Because in some ways, as women, we’ve come so far, and in other ways, we are still vulnerable to the opinions of others.”
“I believe that the Supreme Court in the Roe vs. Wade decision provided that women have the constitutional right to make that decision within some limits,” said State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner of Round Lake. “It would be my hope that that precedent remains.”
In other recent Supreme Court nomination processes, abortion has been at the forefront of the discussion; however, this time around, there’s perhaps a different sense of urgency.
“I think it’s a high profile issue and there are a number of laws that were pasted across the states in recent years to restrict abortion rights,” Oxley said. “Many of those have been challenged in the courts and they’re working their way up through maybe to the Supreme Court. So it’s very likely that the Supreme Court in coming years will be faced with dealing with abortion rights.”
It’s unlikely that the court will revisit the issue before the year is out, said Oxley, in part because the justice confirmation process takes time — an average of 70 days according to The Washington Post.