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Not just women’s rights at stake with Amy Coney Barrett on the bench

The GOP is using women’s bodies as a barricade, to hold on to power that would otherwise be beyond the party’s reach.

People waited in line to vote in Austin, Texas, this week.
People waited in line to vote in Austin, Texas, this week.Tamir Kalifa/NYT

It’s worse than Republicans trying to control women’s bodies.

The GOP is using our bodies as a barricade, a way for the minority party to cling to power that would otherwise be beyond its reach.

It’s all there, in the hearing for President Trump’s US Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett who — despite her risible attempts to avoid admitting it under oath — is sitting in that chair primarily because she vehemently opposes abortion rights, and would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The president does not truly care about abortion. He was pretty emphatically pro-choice until he decided he needed the votes of social conservatives. Now he touts himself as the most committed anti-choice president in history.

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His ramming through Barrett’s nomination isn’t chiefly about throwing red meat to those conservative voters; it’s a way to give him a better chance of winning a second term if the election ends up where only he would want it — before the Supreme Court.

“I’m counting on them to look at the ballots, definitely,” Trump said. And on Tuesday Barrett, inexcusably, refused to say she would recuse herself if that came to pass.

Here, as always, Trump is the quiet-part-out-loud version of everything the Republican Party has become. There was a time when, like a younger Trump, Republicans did not much care about abortion. As Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson has pointed out, around the time Roe v. Wade was decided, majorities of Americans of both political persuasions overwhelmingly supported abortion rights. But Richard Nixon decided he needed Catholic Democrats to win reelection, so he tried to peel them away by making abortion an issue. The Movement Conservatives whose GOP takeover Cox Richardson has documented also believed in undoing the New Deal, reducing taxes and government regulation: Railing against abortion lent them a veneer of morality and gave cover to the Republicans' unseemly gambit.

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During Tuesday’s hearing, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse laid out that real play in vivid detail. Of course, the Rhode Island Democrat said, conservatives are rushing through Barrett’s nomination in the hopes of undoing abortion rights, gay marriage, and the Affordable Care Act. But he also pointed out that her nomination is just the latest development in a decades-long effort by deep-pocketed conservatives to stack benches all over the country with judges who will rule in ways that protect corporations and keep Republicans in power.

He cited 80 US Supreme Court decisions that vastly expanded the use of dark money in politics, protected corporations from regulations and civil juries more likely to hold them responsible for misconduct, and helped the minority party retain power via gerrymandering and voter suppression. Abortion might rally the troops, but this is the real agenda of The Federalist Society.

It seems inevitable they’ll succeed this week, that Barrett will be approved by the Senate Republicans who represent 14 million fewer voters than their Democratic counterparts. But outside that Senate hearing room, there are hopeful signs that their hypocritical Supreme Court grab might not be enough to save them — that ordinary Americans might yet be more powerful than the Republicans who, assisted by their hand-picked judges, would defy voters' will.

Yes, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashed corporations to pour massive amounts of money into political campaigns. But during this election cycle we have seen an explosion in smaller donations, to Democrats like US Senate candidate Jaime Harrison, who is running against Trump sycophant Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. Graham, who went back on his word to rush Barrett’s confirmation in the midst of an election, has been reduced to begging for donations on Fox News.

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The court also gutted the Voting Rights Act, clearing the way for Republicans to prevent likely Democratic voters from exercising their rights. The huge early voting lines we’ve seen this week in Georgia, Texas, and elsewhere are a testament to the effectiveness of those efforts to make participation more onerous. But they also show that Americans are determined to do whatever it takes to overcome them.

If those voters prevail and Democrats take the White House and the Senate and flip state legislatures, they must do all they can to protect the rights Barrett’s large wing of the Supreme Court will take away. That means, among other measures, strong state laws safeguarding abortion.

Women’s autonomy is at stake. So is our democracy.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.