WASHINGTON (BP)–Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is under criticism for seemingly saying in a new interview she thought the initial purpose of Roe v. Wade was to rid the country of those “that we don’t want to have too many of.”
Ginsburg made the comments in an interview that will be in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine but that is already posted online. She was referencing not only Roe but the 1980 Harris v. McRae decision, a 5-4 ruling that upheld the Hyde Amendment, which prevents Medicaid from funding abortion. Ginsburg made clear during the interview that she favors federal money financing abortions for the poor.
The controversial section of the interview began when she was asked, “If you were a lawyer again, what would you want to accomplish as a future feminist legal agenda?”
“Reproductive choice has to be straightened out,” Ginsburg responded. “There will never be a woman of means without choice anymore. That just seems to me so obvious. The states that had changed their abortion laws before Roe [to make abortion legal] are not going to change back. So we have a policy that affects only poor women, and it can never be otherwise, and I don’t know why this hasn’t been said more often.”
The reporter then asked a follow-up, “Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid for abortions for poor women?”
“Yes,” Ginsburg said, “the ruling [Harris v. McRae] about that surprised me. Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.”
Ginsburg’s comments set off a lively discussion in the blogosphere, with many wondering: Did she really mean that?
“So Ginsburg thought the court wanted a method of eugenics that the government could use to reduce growth in certain … populations … that we didn’t want expanding? No wonder she has occasionally admitted that Roe was a bad decision,” Ed Morrissey wrote in the HotAir.com conservative blog.
Another conservative blogger, Scott Ott at Townhall.com, said he would “grant the possibility that she may have been stating this ironically or tongue-in-cheek” and that she didn’t support what she thought was Roe’s intent. But he also wonders about Ginsburg’s legal thoughts between the 1973 Roe decision and the 1980 Harris ruling, when she worked at Columbia Law School and for the American Civil Liberties Union.
“[I]t’s startling to consider that a practicing, liberal feminist attorney could labor for seven years under the misconception (puns intended) that a Supreme Court ruling was, in part, an expression of judicially-sanctioned racial discrimination (or at least of socio-economic discrimination),” Ott wrote. “One would think that Ms. Ginsburg and her colleagues would have taken to the streets in defense of poor, minority women whose wombs had suddenly become chambers of ethnic cleansing. They did not protest.”
In the interview Ginsburg said she’s “not a big fan” of restrictions on abortion, such as mandatory waiting periods.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.