Nation

‘This changes everything’: With Kennedy’s retirement, abortion-rights activists see a fight ahead

Wednesday’s announcement that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring left prochoice advocates worried that President Trump may nominate a replacement who’ll tip the balance of the panel in favor of tighter abortion restrictions or even the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

“We are extraordinarily concerned because that was one of his campaign promises,” said Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization for Women, in a brief telephone interview. “We’re calling on the Senate to not accept any nomination, to not forward any nomination, and to not approve any nomination.”

Van Pelt elaborated in a written statement.

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“This changes everything,” she said. “Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement opens uncharted, unimagined territory for women’s rights. Donald Trump — Donald Trump! — will have the chance to radically alter the Supreme Court for generations to come. . . . Donald Trump’s next Court pick will promise to repeal Roe and block access to women’s reproductive health care.”

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She said her group “is saddened and alarmed by Anthony Kennedy’s retirement” but “more determined than ever to strengthen our grassroots and win overdue victories for women.”

Her words were echoed by Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, a group that backs prochoice Democratic female candidates.

“The ramifications of this announcement are enormous and terrifying,” Schriock said in a statement. “Republicans will use this opportunity to nominate and confirm yet another anti-choice justice to the Supreme Court — a single individual with the power to repeal Roe v. Wade; endangering the lives of tens of millions of American women in the process, jeopardizing our health care, and undermining our rights.

“We will not stop fighting to elect pro-choice Democratic women to the Senate who will defend women’s access to safe, legal abortion and other forms of critical reproductive health care and fight for the rights of all Americans. The stakes could not be higher.”

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Abortion is likely to be one of the flashpoints in the nomination fight. Kennedy has mainly supported abortion rights in his time on the court, and Trump has made clear he would try to choose justices who want to overturn the landmark abortion rights case of Roe v. Wade.

In 2016, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell blocked a vote on then-President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, in the hope that Republicans would take back the White House in the November election and install their own nominee.

On Wednesday, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren made an apparent reference to the 2016 battle on Twitter.

“Mitch McConnell should follow the Mitch McConnell rule,” Warren, a Democrat whose name has been floated as a possible presidential candidate in 2020, said in a tweet. “Let the American people have a say when women’s health and equal rights are on the line.”

Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, also voiced concern over Wednesday’s news.

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“Justice Kennedy cast critical votes to protect freedom of speech, to prevent the overturning of abortion rights, to limit state anti-immigration laws, to stop the execution of children, to preserve affirmative action, and to recognize the dignity and rights of lesbians, gay, and bisexual people,” Rose said in a statement.

“But his retirement announcement today, like his unfortunate Travel Ban opinion yesterday, leaves civil rights and civil liberties dangerously exposed to the whims and bigotry of President Trump. Whatever happens with Justice Kennedy’s replacement, the ACLU of Massachusetts will continue working to keep that bigotry from infecting our legal system and harming vulnerable people.”

Material from the Associated Press and Washington Post was used in this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.