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OPINION | Washington Post Columnist Gerson Critical of Justice Ginsburg's Comments on Abortion in NYT Magazine Interview

OPINION | Washington Post Columnist Gerson Critical of Justice Ginsburg's Comments on Abortion in NYT Magazine Interview
[July 17, 2009]

"There was a scandal this week" involving Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's comments on abortion rights during an interview with the New York Times Magazine, according to Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. In response to a question on access to abortion and restrictions on Medicaid coverage of the procedure, Ginsburg said, "Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe [v. Wade] 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." According to Gerson, the "context surrounding this passage is a simplistic, pro-choice rant." He adds, "Abortion, in Ginsburg's view, is an essential part of sexual equality, thus ending all ethical debate." Ginsburg in the interview also said, "There will never be a woman of means without choice anymore. That just seems to be so obvious." She added, "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."

Gerson writes, "Given this context, can it be argued that Ginsburg -- referring to 'populations that we don't want to have too many of' -- was merely summarizing the views of others and describing the attitudes of the country when Roe v. Wade was decided?" He continues, "It can be argued -- but it is not bloody likely. Who, in Ginsburg's statement, is the 'we'? And who, in 1973, was arguing for the eugenic purposes of abortion?" According to Gerson, "It is more likely that Ginsburg is describing the attitude of some of her own social class -- that abortion is economically important to a 'woman of means' and useful in reducing the number of social undesirables."

Gerson writes, "The entire Ginsburg interview is a reminder of the risks of lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court." He continues, "Immune from criticism, surrounded by plump cushions of deference, the temperament of a justice can become exaggerated over time." He adds that her statements "would have been disqualifying" had they been made during her own confirmation hearing. "Now she doesn't give a damn," Gerson says.

He continues that Ginsburg's "timing ... is instructive" because she made the remarks as Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is "emphasizing her low-income and minority roots." According to Gerson, "It is estimated that the Hyde Amendment limiting Medicaid abortions has saved one million lives since its passage in 1976 -- some, no doubt, became criminals and some, perhaps, lawyers and judges." He concludes, "It is a defining question for modern liberalism: Are these men and women 'populations that we don't want to have too many of,' or are they citizens worthy of justice and capable of contribution?" (Gerson, Washington Post, 7/17).