Brett Kavanaugh’s Yale Classmates Rally for Reproductive Rights at Class Reunion: ‘Keep Your Hands Off My Rights!’

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Participants at the June 4 reproductive rights rally in New Haven, Conn. (Ian Jacobs)

Brett Kavanaugh was nowhere to be seen last Saturday when his Yale classmates attending their 35th college reunion held a rally to express their anger and frustration with their former classmate. The Supreme Court Justice is likely to join with other conservatives on the Court to reverse Roe v. Wade and end constitutional protections for the right to abortion.

“I just didn’t feel like I could come on campus without doing something,” said Kathy Charlton, who was in Kavanaugh’s class at Yale and organized the rally.

A decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is due out any day. Last month, a leaked draft opinion indicated that the Court was preparing to overturn the 49-year-old precedent Roe v. Wade, which recognized the constitutional right to abortion healthcare. During oral arguments last December, Kavanaugh indicated he would vote to overturn Roe.

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Rally organizer Kathy Charlton, Yale class of 1987. Rally organizers distributed a flyer with information and actions. (Ian Jacobs)

“He can hear us from down in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and we will make some noise in New Haven,” said Charlton.

Several hundred people attended the rally, including alumni/ae from several classes on campus for reunions, as well as faculty and current students. They carried signs calling on Kavanaugh to uphold the 49-year-old precedent established in Roe v. Wade. One sign said, “Keep Your Hands Off My Rights!” Another said, “Brett Lied … Now, Women Will Die!” During his confirmation hearings in 2018, Kavanaugh testified that Roe v. Wade was “settled as precedent.”

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Yale alums attend a reproductive rights rally in New Haven on June 4. (Ian Jacobs)

The signs also referenced sexual abuse allegations against Kavanaugh made by a former Yale classmate and by Christine Blasey Ford.

Speakers at the rally included Beth Parker, Yale class of 1977, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood California Central Coast. She noted that if Roe is overturned, 26 states are likely to ban abortion and 36 million women of childbearing age will no longer be able to easily access abortion.

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Rally speaker Beth Parker, ’77, lawyer for Planned Parenthood California Central Coast. (Ian Jacobs)

Parker described the kinds of cases she sees that without Roe would lead to devastating consequences, such as a pregnant woman with cancer forced to forego chemotherapy and continue a pregnancy, a patient required to continue a pregnancy with a fatal abnormality and deliver a dead baby, and a 13-year-old rape victim forced to carry a pregnancy to term. “These are not hypothetical or rare occurrences,” said Parker.

Parker highlighted the difference between her generation and future generations if Roe falls. “We had autonomy over our lives. We could decide if, when and how many children to have. We could take full advantage of the educational and employment opportunities open to us. When Roe is reversed, which is widely expected, all of these advances will evaporate.”

Terri-Ann Thompson, a senior research scientist at Ibis Reproductive Health in Cambridge, emphasized the long-standing barriers Black and Brown women experience accessing abortion and the disproportionate impact a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe will have on women of color, particularly in the South. Thompson encouraged people to support abortion funds that help people cover the costs of abortion healthcare and travel to reach it.

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Rally speaker Terri-Ann Thompson of Ibis Reproductive Health. (Ian Jacobs)

Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer and HIV Project James D. Esseks, ’87, said that overturning Roe and the right to privacy it established could lead to the reversal of cases decriminalizing sodomy and oral sex and legalizing same-sex marriage.

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James Esseks, ’87, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer and HIV Project. (Ian Jacobs)

Connecticut state Senator Gary Winfield, who is co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, spoke about the recent passage of a state law protecting healthcare providers who serve women from states banning abortion.

“When the leak came down, I was shocked. I could not believe what I was reading. They want to control women’s bodies.” Winfield encouraged people to go back to their states and “educate, advocate, legislate, donate. Do every one of the -ates that you can!”

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Connecticut state Senator Gary Winfield. (Ian Jacobs)

Two doctors from Kavanaugh’s class and a current medical student spoke as well.

Texas-based reproductive psychiatrist Karen Horst explained the dangerous conditions in Texas since the state banned abortion last year. When a woman with a pre-viable pregnancy (for example, at 17 weeks gestation) presents to the hospital due to premature rupture of membranes, she cannot receive treatment until she either hemorrhages or develops a uterine infection. Instead she is sent home with instructions to return if heavy bleeding or fever develops. Dr. Horst said that due to the legal threats of SB8, doctors hesitate to act: “We just have to let them bleed until we decide that they have bled too much. That is where we are in Texas right now,” said Horst.

Oregon-based gynecologist Audrey Garrett described how she had seen women die of abortions in countries where abortion was illegal.

Yale medical student Siddhi Madkarni urged young people to speak out and demand abortion access.

We just have to let them bleed until we decide that they have bled too much. That is where we are in Texas right now.

Dr. Karen Horst, Yale ’87
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Dr. Karen Horst, ’87, who specializes in reproductive psychiatry. (Ian Jacobs)

I also graduated with Kavanaugh and spoke at the rally. I explained how the SCOTUS decision could imperil contraception, and how Alito’s repeated reference to “unborn child” could lay the groundwork for a challenge to legal abortion in states like Connecticut. I noted the irony that the U.S. is going backwards on abortion rights while many countries are legalizing abortion, such as Mexico, Argentina, Columbia and Ireland.

I urged attendees to spread the word about the growing network of organizations providing information and support for people in red states for how to obtain abortion pills and self-manage their own abortions.

“Pre-Roe will be different from post-Roe for two reasons: the internet and abortion pills. People can order abortion pills online and use them safely at home. But we also now have mass incarceration and new tools for criminal law enforcement, including enhanced surveillance.”

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Ms. magazine contributing editor Carrie N. Baker. (Ian Jacobs)

I expressed my outrage that three Yale alumni are among the five Supreme Court conservatives likely to overturn Roe. Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh all graduated from Yale Law School. “What the hell are we doing here? How are we producing people who are taking away our long-standing constitutional rights?”

Two of the three Yale grads on the Court have been credibly accused of sexually abusing women. “Sexual assault and abortion bans are two sides of the same coin. It’s about taking away women’s bodily autonomy. They are both forms of violence against women.”

Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.

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About

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.