The way Brett Kavanaugh sees it, women's lives are literally up for debate.
Trump's extremist Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, could decide the future of reproductive rights in America if he is confirmed.
But judging by his shockingly dismissive comments about Roe v. Wade during his confirmation hearing Wednesday, Kavanaugh doesn't seem to care what that future looks like.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) made the stakes crystal-clear in her questions to Kavanaugh, reminding him that hundreds of thousands of women were forced to turn to unsafe, illegal abortions in the United States before Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.
"In the 1950s and '60s, two decades before Roe, deaths from illegal abortions in this country ran between 200,000 and 1.2 million," Feinstein said. "A lot of women died in that period."
(Feinstein misspoke on this; according to the Guttmacher Institute report she cited, 200,000 to 1.2 million was the total number of unsafe, illegal abortions during those two decades in the U.S., not the number of deaths. By the 1960s, illegal abortion officially killed about 200 women per year and sent thousands more to the hospital with serious complications. Worldwide, 68,000 women die every year of unsafe abortion, and 5 million experience lifelong complications, because safe, legal abortion is not available.)
Given the grim reality of what outlawing abortion does to women's health, Feinstein wanted to know not just whether Kavanaugh thinks Roe v. Wade is a precedent to be respected, but whether he thinks it’s a precedent that can be overturned.
Kavanaugh's reply? Reducing Feinstein's very real concern about dead women to a mere "point of view."
"I understand your point of view on that, Senator," Kavanaugh said. "I understand how deep people feel about this issue. I understand the importance of the issue. I understand the importance people attach to the Roe v. Wade decision, to the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision" that upheld Roe in 1992.
It is not Feinstein's "view" that banning abortion kills women; it is a tragic fact. It has been consistently true both in the pre-Roe United States and in other countries that still ban or heavily restrict abortion.
And it's bizarre and callous, to say the least, for Kavanaugh to reduce the deaths of thousands of women to a "point" of intellectual debate.
But that's not the only subtle dismissal of women's rights that Kavanaugh managed to wedge into his seemingly innocuous remarks.
By referring to "the importance people attach" to these crucial Supreme Court decisions, Kavanaugh makes clear that he just doesn't understand how important abortion services really are for people who need them.
And Kavanaugh was careful to construct his comments in a way that either pro-choice or anti-choice people could identify with. An anti-choice person might hear his comment and think, "Yes, it's a very important issue that sluts are allowed to kill their babies."
However, most Americans don't agree with hardcore anti-choice activists. In fact, a record-high 71 percent now say they don't want to see Roe v. Wade overturned, which means they want to keep abortion safe and legal.
And while support for Roe is now at a record high, it’s only a few points higher than it has been for the last decade. This overwhelming support for legal abortion has been pretty consistent.
It’s not hard to see why that is. While many people have personal qualms about the morality of abortion, they also recognize that it’s barbaric for the government to force a woman to remain pregnant and then give birth against her will.
But that's very clearly not where Kavanaugh is coming from.
Feinstein also asked Kavanaugh if he agrees with former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor that a woman's right to control her reproductive life impacts her ability to "participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation."
The best he could offer was a weaselly response that "as a general proposition, I understand the importance of the precedent set forth in Roe v. Wade," and dismissed O'Connor's quote as "one of the rationales" behind Roe.
Kavanaugh might say he thinks Roe v. Wade is "settled law," but that doesn't mean he can't or won't unsettle it — and gut legal abortion rights nationwide.
Editor's note: This piece has been updated to reflect the accurate number of women who died or were injured as a result of unsafe, illegal abortion.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.