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What Brett Kavanaugh has to do with UW-Madison students and reproductive healthcare

By Juliet Dupont

Photo courtesy of Ninian Reid on Flickr. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh responds to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's sexual assault allegations in his Sept. 27, 2018 testimony.
Photo courtesy of Ninian Reid on Flickr. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh responds to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations in his Sept. 27, 2018 testimony.

A group of University of Wisconsin-Madison journalism students gathered on Sept. 27  during class to watch a livestream of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, whom she accused of sexual assault.

UW-Madison students marched up Langdon Street and back down State Street on Sept. 29 to protest the nomination.

Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court sparked campus interest and debate, but one such debate about Kavanaugh’s past and positions existed outside Ford’s allegations and the lengthy confirmation process: reproductive healthcare and abortion.

Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaull on Flickr. Demonstrators protest Brett Kavanaugh's nomination in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Sept. 7, 2018.
Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaull on Flickr. Demonstrators protest Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Sept. 7, 2018.

Kavanaugh’s past views suggest he would allow the government to limit access to abortion as a Supreme Court justice, even though he described Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case legalizing abortion in the United States, as “important precedent,” CNN legal analyst and Supreme Court biographer Joan Biskupic said.

On campus, UW-Madison groups and institutions approach reproductive healthcare differently. Brett Kavanaugh’s recent confirmation to the Supreme Court and concerns about access to abortion, however, impacts each of the groups and their visions for the future.

While Kavanaugh’s presence on the Supreme Court may or may not result in changes to access to abortion, UW-Madison students continue to have access to many different university institutions and student organizations, all of which view the topic of reproductive healthcare in different ways.

Dr. Mary Landry, University Health Services gynecologist and physician supervisor, defines reproductive health as, for both men and women, any aspect of one’s clinical or mental health that is influenced in a positive or negative way by their reproductive system.

Dr. Mary Landry is the gynecologist at the University Health Services Women's Health Clinic.
Photo by Juliet Dupont. Dr. Mary Landry is the gynecologist at the University Health Services Women’s Health Clinic.

Landry felt that the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, causing abortion to become illegal under Wisconsin state law, would negatively impact women and their overall reproductive health.

“It would be devastating because women, historically, have always made the choice and a legal, safe choice is a healthier choice to offer them,” Landry said. “I imagine women seeking illegal pregnancy terminations — abortions — and with that comes significant health risk.”

While Landry approached reproductive healthcare and Roe v. Wade from a medical perspective, debates over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and concerns over the future of access to abortion emerged on the political stage between College Democrats of UW-Madison and College Republicans of UW-Madison.

“It is extremely important that all womyn have access to proper healthcare, regardless to background, financial situation or insurance. We full heartedly support protecting the Roe v. Wade decision,” College Democrats of UW-Madison vice chair Claudia Koechell said in an email.  “We are all very worried about the future of reproductive healthcare in light of the new Supreme Court appointment.”

College Republicans of UW-Madison deputy communications director Sara Sedgwick took the opposite stance regarding abortion, Roe v. Wade and Kavanaugh’s confirmation, stressing her opinion that an American should not have to contribute taxes to abortion if he or she does not believe in the procedure.

“We don’t like Roe v. Wade, we don’t want abortion to be legal and we don’t want to pay for it. Ideally, [reproductive healthcare] would be privately funded,” Sedgwick said. “We are happy with the confirmation, we think he’s a great candidate and we think he will do a great job of not legislating from the bench, which is what a Supreme Court justice should do.”

The Student Alliance for Reproductive Justice, a Planned Parenthood-affiliated and pro-choice UW-Madison student organization, encourages students to contact politicians to influence policy, but SARJ also focuses on engaging students and making reproductive healthcare accessible, according to SARJ vice chair Mia Wagner.

SARJ members meet at Memorial Union to hand out free Planned Parenthood condoms on Oct. 18, 2018.
Photo by Juliet Dupont. SARJ members meet at Memorial Union to hand out free Planned Parenthood condoms on Oct. 18, 2018.

SARJ aligns with Planned Parenthood on future access to abortion should the Supreme Court overturn or impose limitations on Roe v. Wade, according to Wagner. Even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, however, Planned Parenthood would still have plenty of work to do to make reproductive healthcare services accessible, Wagner said.

“The work of Planned Parenthood would still be critical, critical work for women’s health and for access to healthcare for people who can’t afford it,” Wagner said.

Like SARJ, Students for Life of Madison, UW-Madison’s pro-life student organization, gives students the chance to tailor their reproductive health treatments to their beliefs about abortion. Students for Life of Madison president Haleigh Slack supports access to free appointments at University Health Services and contraceptives, but she does not support Roe v. Wade or the abortion procedure.

Students for Life of Madison took no position on Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, according to Slack. The organization’s official position is dependent on whether Kavanaugh upholds Roe v. Wade as a Supreme Court justice and therefore allows abortion to remain legal in America.

“I think it’s assumed that if you’re in our organization that you would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned or that you would like to work to promote life in general,” Slack said.

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