Editor’s Note: Ashley Judd is a US actor and activist. She is a Goodwill Ambassador for UNFPA, the United Nations reproductive health and rights agency. The opinions in this article belong to the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
The afterglow of an idyllic late summer walk with my love around Walden Pond was shattered when my best friend texted that she was bawling because of the news. I opened my news app, saw the name RUTH and the word DEAD, and was instantly, searingly, shattered.
My thoughts tumbled and rushed – to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s beloved grandchildren, to reproductive rights, to the Supreme Court possibly deciding the outcome of the 2020 presidential election without her. I was terrified.
RBG pioneered the interpretation of women’s equality under the Constitution. Over the course of decades, led by her towering jurisprudence and unflinching vision, we Americans have fought together to improve the system that was conceived of and designed to place women, especially women of color, below white, propertied men.
Because of RBG, we now take for granted that women can open bank and checking accounts and apply for credit cards without a man signing for them. Women can rent apartments and buy homes. We can attend the colleges we choose. Modern womanhood is vastly different because of her.
This week, we are hearing directly from Amy Coney Barrett – President Donald Trump’s conservative pick for Ginsburg’s seat – during her confirmation hearings. The Affordable Care Act and women’s health and reproductive choice are all on the line, and I have every expectation that this confirmation would haul us back in time.
After RBG’s passing, I keened and reflected upon her legal mind and jargon-free words. She was our voice in the room who steadily, unflinchingly, defended the equal dignity, rights and protections under the law of women and men. She often used clever reverse logic to show how social constructions of gender roles constrained men, too. She led us every step of the way.
If her duty and desire was to make society better, then we surely have ours: to carry on where her small shoulders and giant legacy left off. To honor her, we must fight like hell for a more just, equal, fair and decent society. After watching Trump’s spectacularly imbecilic performance at the presidential debate and his reckless and endangering behavior following his coronavirus diagnosis, it is clear that we are in the fight of our lives.
We women want a pretty simple thing, one that society has made so hard and convoluted: to be free from discrimination based on sex.
Many of us would also like to be able to plan our families and space the births of our children. To have privacy from the state about if and when to terminate a pregnancy. (This mattered to me when I was raped by someone I had known since second grade. Not only did I not want to bring the pregnancy to term, I did not want this rapist to have paternal rights, which were accorded to those accused of rape in many states– including the one where I was raped – unless there was a conviction. This is still the law in many states.)
What an obscenity, and what would have been my chances, given that only1% of rape cases result in a felony conviction?
Equal pay for equal work for all races of women seems pretty darn intuitive. In a democracy, unencumbered voting rights sounds straightforward. To love whom we love, and to have the right to marry them. To manifest our God-given gifts in a society of equal opportunity. To be free from harassment, violence and retaliation at home, in public spaces, and at work. To be able to feed our families. To have guaranteed health care. All of these rights just make sense.
Even as Justice Ginsburg was struggling with her own health, she stayed on the court to ensure others would have access to quality health care. The Trump administration is asking the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act, and with Ginsburg’s passing, the next justice may determine whether nearly 20 million Americans lose their health care.
The case is being considered even as the Covid pandemic rages, with a disproportionate impact on Black and Brown Americans. The number of vulnerable Americans with pre-existing conditions and with financial insecurity is increasing every day.
Should Barrett be confirmed, she will have the chance to render enormously consequential decisions for American women for generations to come. Based on her record, we should be profoundly alarmed. Yesterday during her confirmation questioning, she had to be pressed before she would indicate that she believes in the peaceful transfer of power as laid out by the US Constitution.
One of Ginsburg’s final requests was that her seat remain open until after the election. In yet another galling example of Trump era cynicism – and only two Tuesdays before the election – Senate Republicans are rushing forward to install Barrett in RGB’s seat.
They are not only violating the very standard they themselves set in 2016 when they refused even to consider former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick for nine months before the election, they are also flagrantly disregarding the votes of more than 10.5 million Americans who have already cast their ballots and who want the next president to nominate the new justice. The hypocrisy is thick.
Former Vice President Joe Biden made a historic decision in choosing Sen. Kamala Harris to be his running mate. This is our new era for American women. It honors a commitment to full equality for women and people of color. Sen. Harris, like Justice Ginsburg, is guided by her deep and abiding desire for justice and equality “for the people.” No one can take RBG’s place, but certain women among us strive to follow her path. Who does, and who does not, is as clear as the difference between chalk and cheese.
Sen. Harris is a trusted leader, truth-teller, long-time champion for women and children, LGBTQ+ rights, voting rights and civil rights. I especially value her record fighting childhood sexual abuse. As Vice President, Kamala Harris will bring backbone, character, policy chops and the good, moral fight.
We owe a mighty mountain of gratitude to Justice Ginsburg for leading the way, and now we must move her legacy forward. The smart way we can honor Ginsburg now is turn out the vote in massive waves and to vote for Biden and Harris.