Ms. magazine convened a panel of women leaders, writers, and activists to participate in a community forum today at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on women’s issues and the Supreme Court. The discussion coincides with the publication of Ms.‘ Summer 2005 issue, which includes an urgent report on the issues at stake for women in the looming fight over the Supreme Court, including reproductive health and rights, educational opportunity and affirmative action, access to birth control for all women, and family and medical leave.
Speakers included Eleanor Smeal, publisher of Ms. magazine and president of the Feminist Majority Foundation; Dolores Huerta, co-chair of the newly formed Hispanics for a Fair Judiciary and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation; Frank Susman, an attorney who has argued six reproductive rights cases before the Supreme Court; Ellen Chesler, author and senior fellow at the Open Society Institute; Judith DeSarno, president of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association; Jocelyn Frye, Director of Legal and Public Policy at the National Partnership for Women & Families; and Katherine Spillar, executive editor of Ms., who moderated the event.
Chesler and Susman emphasized the fact that both abortion and birth control depend on the right to privacy, pointing out that Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court case giving married women the right to use birth control, provided the foundation for the right to privacy critical to Roe v. Wade, the case legalizing abortion. DeSarno also discussed the threats to family planning, including birth control, posed by a shift in the balance of the Supreme Court. Huerta emphasized the importance of access to birth control for Latina and immigrant women. Expanding the discussion beyond reproductive health, Frye discussed women’s economic and educational rights at stake in the Supreme Court debate.
Smeal led the call for a centrist woman nominee to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, saying, “We want not only a woman, but a woman who will not close the door on the rights of women.” With the rumored decision by Chief Justice Rehnquist to also resign, Smeal pointed out that Bush could have an historic opportunity to appoint two women to the Court, which would mean women would make up one-third of the seats on the Supreme Court. However, she cautioned that the country would not, and should not, accept a candidate who does not make her or his views on critical issues known during the confirmation hearings. “We do not think Americans should permit a stealth candidacy,” said Smeal. “Too many rights of women are at stake.”
CSPAN covered the event live, and it will be re-airing the community forum several times this week.