U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

July 2, 2022

Rights Revoked

Dear Fellow Marylanders:

Last week, the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, dealing a devastating blow to civil rights in the United States. In a 6–3 decision, millions of Americans lost the right to choose the best health care for themselves and their families, and millions more are at risk. Congress and the Biden administration must act decisively to safeguard reproductive rights.

In this gut-wrenching decision, the court overturned 50 years of precedent by revoking the fundamental constitutional protection to an abortion established in Roe v. Wade, as well as Planned Parenthood v. Casey. We already are seeing the consequences of this decision, as clinics in states with trigger laws have been or soon will be forced to close down operations, leaving women without access to essential services.

In this case, the Supreme Court has acted to take away an individual right that it had recognized previously, leaving women today and in the future with less freedom than their mothers and grandmothers. This goes against the fundamental role of the high court, which is to expand rights, not restrict them. Now individuals are left to navigate a patchwork of fluid and potentially extremely restrictive state laws. Without a constitutional right, your basic autonomy over your own body depends on which state you live in, and is now subject to change with little notice.

In their dissenting opinion, Associate Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen G. Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor assert“[w]hatever the scope of the coming laws, one result of today’s decision is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens.” As the court itself has recognized in its previous decisions, the protection of reproductive rights has helped move our society toward full equality for women under our Constitution and laws.  

This decision has far-reaching implications and its reasoning further endangers other closely held rights. The majority opinion calls into question the validity of other rights recognized under the Fourteenth Amendment. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurrence goes further; he explicitly called for the court to reconsider cases recognizing rights to access to contraception, same-sex relationships, and marriage equality.

Attacks on reproductive rights will not end with the Dobbs decision. Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurrence left the door open for a nationwide abortion ban, a position Republican leaders, including former Vice President Pence, have already seized upon. States also have begun to move rapidly to increase restrictions.

Abortion is a standard part of health care. Bans, criminalization and bounty hunter laws will not stop abortions. Instead, many women will be forced to resort to unsafe practices of the pre-Roe era. Some state laws permissible under this decision do not even have exceptions for rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother. And those that do may not be able to guarantee access in those instances due to the chilling effect of bans, and the fears that health care providers might face prosecution should one of the exceptions be questioned.

We must take immediate action to mitigate the impacts of this wrongful decision and restore the rights of women that have been taken away. The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg laid out the potential repercussions clearly in her 1993 confirmation hearing before the Senate: “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When Government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”

The Senate must pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which I have co-sponsored, to codify Roe v. Wade and prohibit laws that impose burdensome requirements on access to reproductive health services. I also will continue to support legislation that ensures and expands access to contraception. President Biden, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice, and other federal agencies must also use their power to act swiftly to defend these rights.

Thanks to the clear-headed actions of state lawmakers in Annapolis, access to abortion will continue in states like Maryland that respect individual privacy rights and a woman’s fundamental right to make the best, informed health care decisions for herself and her family, free from government interference. I am proud that Marylanders have already shown willingness to step up and provide access to care for those who cannot access it in their own state, but our medical systems will feel the weight of states with contrary laws. Those without the means to leave their homes and travel to other states, particularly lower-income women and women of color, will be the most burdened and harmed by last week’s decision.

The coming weeks and months will be difficult as we begin to see the decision and new laws take effect. But we must not give up hope or allow despair to lead to inaction. I will continue to do everything within my power to ensure that women can access the reproductive care that they need. Marylanders and all Americans should understand the important role our presidentially appointed federal judges have in protecting the rights that we hold dear.

Thank you for your time. Please keep raising your voice on this issue and encourage your family and friends to do the same.

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Ben Cardin