Eugenics and the Supreme Court

eugenicsSlate senior editor Emily Bazelon has a really interesting article in this coming Sunday's New York Times magazine. The article, which has been online for days now, is just an interview -- but the subject is Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The last time we wrote about Bazelon was to note that the liberal justice Ginsburg had approvingly cited Bazelon's work in a dissenting opinion of the court's ruling supporting a ban on partial birth abortion.

Anyway, the interview includes a bunch of interesting questions and answers. Here's the exchange that caught my eye:

Q: If you were a lawyer again, what would you want to accomplish as a future feminist legal agenda?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Reproductive choice has to be straightened out. 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.

Q: 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?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae -- in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] 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.

The second excerpted question is interesting because normally I would make fun of any reporter asking a question, or series of questions, that could so easily be answered with a yes or a no. Usually reporters are taught to ask open-ended -- or leading -- questions.

And yet WOW did Bazelon get quite an interesting answer out of Ginsburg. ("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.") What was that again? Populations we don't want to have too many of? What is she talking about?

Unfortunately, and I have no idea why this is, Bazelon doesn't follow up for clarification. I'm pretty sure that any time a Supreme Court justice talks about populations we don't want to have too many of, that's big news. It's unclear whether Ginsburg is making an endorsement, a comment or registering a concern about whether the court wanted, in Roe, a method of eugenics that the government could use to reduce growth in certain populations that "we" don't want to expand.

It's downright bizarre that Bazelon didn't ask for clarification. Imagine if, say, Scalia had talked about populations we don't want to have too many of. And, in fact, this is lighting up the blogosphere.

ginsburgScott Ott, a conservative columnist at TownHall, explains why some people are interested in Ginsburg's views.

Justice Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993. In 1973, when the Roe v. Wade ruling legalized abortion nationwide, Ms. Ginsburg was an attorney active in so-called reproductive rights issues. If I understand her remarks to the NY Times correctly, Ms. Ginsburg thought a contributing factor to the Court's Roe decision was concern for too much population growth among "populations that we don't want to have too many of."

I'll grant the possibility that she may have been stating this ironically or tongue-in-cheek...not expressing her own misgivings about the multiplication of certain undesirable populations.

Nevertheless, it'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). 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.

Perhaps this shouldn't just be of interest to conservatives and others concerned about eugenics. Perhaps some general interest newspapers should cover this as well.

Damian Thompson at the Telegraph agrees. In his "What the hell did Ruth Bader Ginsburg mean when she linked abortion and eugenics?":

The mainstream media have been incredibly slow to pick up on a creepy comment by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a New York Times interview published today but flagged last week . . .

You might think the New York Times might want to trumpet its exclusive. But the mindset of that pompous, prickly, boring, self-regarding publication is so overwhelmingly liberal that it didn't even realise it had a story on its hands.

It's old news that Planned Parenthood has its roots in eugenics and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was a proud eugenicist. Still, pro-choice activists rarely talk about their support for abortion in terms of eugenics anymore. It's just amazing that the mainstream media hasn't noticed this quote -- hidden, as it is, in the pages of one of the country's biggest newspapers.

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