January 22, 2003
Gandy, President of the
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
On January 22nd, 1973, the Supreme Court, by a vote of seven to two, granted women the legal right to an abortion. Thirty years later, the decision remains one of the most controversial issues in American politics and society. The far majority of Americans view the abortion issue with a level of compassion and understanding that this most important of decisions should be left to a woman to decide and control her own body. America is ready to get beyond the abortion debate, and move on to other important issues, but the right-wing and the Republican Party continues to put the emergency brake on social progress. On this historical day, BuzzFlash is honored to bring you an interview with National Organization for Women President, Kim Gandy.
Kim Gandy was elected President of the National Organization for Women (NOW) on its 35th Anniversary, June 30, 2001, after serving as Executive Vice President since 1991. Gandy was responsible for NOW's legislative agenda and litigation docket, including NOW v. Scheidler, the landmark racketeering case against anti-abortion terrorists. Prior to taking on a national post at NOW, Gandy had been active in women's rights in Louisiana for more than a decade, using her skills as an organizer and an attorney to advance issues of importance to women. Gandy graduated from Louisiana Tech University in 1973 with a B.S. in mathematics, and she received her law degree in 1978 from Loyola University School of Law, where she was a member of the Loyola Law Review. Gandy resides in Washington, D.C. with her husband Dr. Christopher "Kip" Lornell, an ethnomusicologist and part-time Professor of Africana Studies at George Washington University. They have two daughters, Elizabeth Cady Lornell and Katherine Eleanor Gandy.
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BUZZFLASH: January 22nd marks the 30th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Can you tell us what has changed over the abortion debate in thirty years?
KIM GANDY: The combination of legalizing abortion and the broader availability of birth control changed women’s lives in ways that many of us could not have anticipated at that time. The ability to decide when and whether to start or expand our families made it possible for women to participate more fully in higher education, in the job market, and to compete in career fields that had previously been closed to them because of the assumptions that were made about women at the time. Now that so many opportunities have opened up for women, I think some people have forgotten the extent to which the ability to make reproductive decisions has made these advances possible.
BUZZFLASH: There’s a strong possibility that President George Bush will get to appoint a Supreme Court Justice –- probably more than one. Justice Rehnquist is 78, and is considered the most likely to retire, perhaps this year. Some other justices that are speculated to retire soon are Sandra Day O’Connor and John Paul Stevens. What does this mean for the choice issue?
GANDY: I've talked to a lot of people about what the change in the Supreme Court might mean. Some people think that this is tied to who is in the White House, and they say things like, well, we can live with anything for two years, or four years, or six years, until George Bush is out of the White House. They don't realize that the appointments to the Supreme Court are for the lifetime of that Justice. What that means is that an appointment of someone who shares the ideology of Clarence Thomas or Anthony Scalia -– namely, a clear determination to overturn Roe –- will be on the bench as a Supreme Court Justice for 35 or 40 years. That’s the entire reproductive life of my nine-year-old daughter. And people are very surprised when they think about what it means to replace a 78-year-old Rehnquist with a 38-year-old Miguel Estrada for example. (Miguel Estrada has been nominated by Bush to the Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.) It’s not an equal exchange because Miguel Estrada would be on the bench as a Supreme Court Justice for another forty years. Rehnquist wouldn't. It’s not an exchange of equals.
BUZZFLASH: Let me ask you this: could you foresee an outright reversal of Roe v. Wade by a change in the Supreme Court, or would that be political suicide for conservatives? Is it better for the right wing to just limit access, cut funding, regulate and control abortion and abortion services as much as possible?
GANDY: Yes and yes. I believe it would be political suicide for conservatives to overturn Roe, and I believe that that’s exactly what they will be forced to do by the right flank of the Republican Party. To be sure, they are doing the things you said -– namely, reducing access and making availability and accessibility almost a thing of the past for many women. But there also is a real determination to eliminate Roe entirely. Both Scalia and Thomas, as Supreme Court Justices, have put in writing in court opinions their determination to reverse Roe, and they’re not alone in that. It could be that a single vote change on the Court will be enough to reverse Roe. The last abortion decision that came from this Court was 5 to 4. And if one of those five is replaced by a Justice who shares the ideology of the four, then the vote will be 5-4 in the other direction, and we will lose Roe. People say that that won’t happen, but it literally hangs on the vote of that one person. And if the United States Senate confirms a Justice who is opposed to Roe and supports its overturn, then the outcome is a foregone conclusion.
BUZZFLASH: The battle over reproductive rights is being fought over Bush’s nominations to the federal judiciary. The right wing has basically figured out a way to advance their political agenda, by stacking the court with right-wing ideologues. They’re young, as you said earlier, and would receive lifetime appointments. Beyond their ideology, their ability as objective jurists is questionable. Recently Bush has renominated some of his right-wing candidates to serve on the federal bench who were defeated in the Senate Judiciary Committee last year. Most notably I'm referring to Charles Pickering and Priscilla Owen. What’s your position on both of those nominations and the chances they will be confirmed by the Senate?
GANDY: I believe that Bush’s renomination of Pickering and Owen was a stroke of political brilliance by Karl Rove. I think their intention is to tie the Senate up around those two and hope that the scores of other nominees who are just as bad as Pickering and Owen, but haven’t received as much press, will slip right through the back door.
They were very successful on convincing the Democrats that they had to pick their fights, if you will. And people like Dennis Shedd was confirmed shortly after the mid-term elections in November as a favor to Strom Thurmond. Michael McConnell was also confirmed despite a clear disdain for Roe vs. Wade.
There’s a huge list of these bad nominees: Deborah Cook, John Roberts, Carolyn Kuhl, Jeffrey Sutton, and John Roberts, to name only a few. These nominations are not just conservative ideologues, but they have absolutely demonstrated in their time on the bench that they are willing to twist the law to fit their ideology. Or to disregard the law when it does not fit.
BUZZFLASH: You think Pickering and Owen are basically "straw nominations" –- they'll be blocked in the Senate, but everyone else gets in?
GANDY: I think that may be the case. I think that was the intention. A lot of people were surprised when Pickering and Owen were renominated. I really wasn't surprised. I thought, "We get to have those fights all over again." And just like last time, we have the two big fights. We have two wins. And then everyone else slips in, and they've had a huge victory.
Take a look at the circuit that Pickering and Owen are nominated for. The Fifth Circuit is already heavily dominated by the right wing. So not having Pickering and Owen on the circuit is not going to hurt the White House or the conservative cause, because the Fifth Circuit is already heavily dominated by conservatives. So if they give up two Fifth Circuit appointments, that doesn't hurt them. What they want to do is take over the few remaining circuits that they don't already dominate.
BUZZFLASH: Do you think there should be a litmus test on the abortion issue for judicial appointments? Several nominees are following the strategy Clarence Thomas used during his confirmation hearings. Although most thought Thomas was pro-life, Thomas himself showed blatant disregard to questions about his views on abortion, and simply wouldn't answer them. Of course we know where Thomas stands now. But what is your take on this litmus test for judges?
GANDY: Well, there clearly is a litmus test. It’s not random that over a hundred appointments are judges who have a strong record of opposition to abortion. That’s not happenstance. There is an absolutely clear litmus test in the White House that you will not be considered for a judicial nomination unless you are firmly opposed to abortion. And I can’t imagine anyone arguing that it’s okay for the White House to have a litmus test on one side without there being some sort of check and balance on the other side. That’s how our system was established –- checks and balances.
BUZZFLASH: Do you think young women today are aware of the attack on their reproductive rights?
GANDY: My sense of young women today is that they are so confident that the right to make reproductive choices is their birthright that they simply cannot see any possibility that it could be taken away. Perhaps in the same way that someone of my generation -– I'm nearly 50 –- sees the right to vote as my birthright, which is something that my grandmother did not see. But I see the right to vote as my birthright. And my daughter will see the right to reproductive choice as her birthright. And I think it’s very difficult to imagine, no matter how much someone tells you that there’s a threat, that something you truly believe is your birthright -- part of your existence and your sense of your place in the world -- could ever be taken away from you, until it happens. And if that happens, I think young women will be the first ones in the streets. But by then, it will be too late. I had a woman tell me a couple of months ago, with a real anger in her voice, "If they reverse Roe v. Wade, I'm gonna be in the streets!" And I just looked at her, waiting for it to dawn on her that, wouldn't that be a little late? And I finally said, "Do you realize that being in the streets doesn't do you much good at that point?" It just sort of dawned on her slowly what she said –- that she was going to wait until it was already gone before she made her position actively known.
BUZZFLASH: Well, you bring up an interesting point. When I think of abortion, there’s two critical issues. One, there’s clearly a very radical right-wing contingent that wakes up in the morning and is committed to stopping women from choosing what to do with their own bodies. And that’s clear.
BUZZFLASH: But at the same time, it seems to me that conservatives and the right wing have an effective political and social strategy when pushing their pro-life agenda. And that is, women are the core of the Democratic Party. When we have to spend enormous time and resources defending reproductive rights, we stay in a reactive mode essentially. The effect is that women and Democrats are limited in their pro-active agenda for other issues, both relating to women’s issues and other progressive issues, such as wage equality, early childhood education, quality daycare, the environment, universal health care. And I'm certainly not trying to belittle the choice issue, but the strategy, however you cut it –- it works for the right wing and they're winning. What are your thoughts about that?
GANDY: You're absolutely right. You have completely hit the nail on the head. There is real frustration that those of us who work in a multi-issue movement. NOW, as you know, is a multi-issue, multi-tactical organization. And we work on all of those issues that you talked about, from economic issues to civil rights issues, to quality of life issues. And the constant battle to preserve reproductive rights, the constant battle not to move forward, but just to keep from moving backwards, takes an enormous amount of energy and resources away from the progress that we ought to be making in those other areas.
BUZZFLASH: Will our country ever get over the abortion issue? What does the future hold on the abortion debate?
GANDY: I wish I had a crystal ball because it might tell me how much I should be allocating my time these days. It’s very difficult to predict. I don't want to be part of the generation that won reproductive rights and then lost it before our daughters had that benefit. And I look at my two little girls. They’re seven and nine. And I know that I'm in this movement because I want to make sure that they will have choices –- that they will be able to decide who to love, who to spend their lives with, when and whether to have children, whether to have a career, what kind of career they’d like to have, and the ability to participate in jobs and sports, and even in the military, on the same basis as the little boy down the street. Reproductive rights is a critical element of this, but it’s also part of a broader picture of what life will be like for our daughters ten years or twenty years from now. Will they enjoy the kind of quality that we are still working towards now? That’s what keeps me in this.
BUZZFLASH: Ms. Gandy, thank you very much for your time.
GANDY: My pleasure. Thank you Buzz.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
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National Organization for Women website:
For a comprehensive list of Bush’s federal judiciary appointees and
Information on Supreme Court decisions regarding abortion:
U.S. Supreme Court homepage
Key Bush Nominees:
otherwise noted, all original