Amy Coney Barrett and the Future of Feminism

With an election year looming on the horizon, young voters face another unprecedented item on the ballot. Only days after the death of the feminist pioneer, Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, President Trump nominated his choice for her replacement on the Supreme Court. His decision sent pulses racing as it sets Amy Coney Barret, a conservative law professor,  to fill the shoes of the departed female representation on the bench. Despite her young age and gender, Barrett’s ideology poses many contrasts to the feminist movement without polarizing it altogether. This working mother instead proposes a new kind of feminism, just as Ruth Bader Ginsburg did in the 90s, and her platform deserves a second look. 

As a 7th-circuit judge and professor of Constitutional Law at Notre Dame, George Washington University, and the University of Virginia, Barrett is well-practiced in clarifying Federal law. She is known for interpreting legal documents word-for-word instead of considering the intent of the lawmakers. Some critics feel this method will be disastrous for the progression of the feminist movement, which is rooted in the steady advancement of women’s rights and challenges dated legislation. Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson criticizes this “staunch originalist” stance, claiming Barrett interprets the Constitution, “a document written by slaveholders, as if our country should be frozen in time.” I would have to agree, as the Constitution was written by white landowning men, for white landowning men, excluding women and minorities. For that reason, her method of interpretation is irrelevant, out-of-date, and potentially dangerous. This concern, however, is dismissed by her supporters, who embrace the strict-constitutionalist stance in accordance with traditional Conservatism. As for the progression of women’s rights, Barrett’s viewpoints could potentially help spark a new movement of rethinking feminism, one of the most powerful social movements of our century. 

A key aspect of the feminist platform is the right to have an abortion, which Ginsburg defended to her death. Contrastingly, while Barrett has also chosen this as a key issue in her platform, Barrett’s anti-abortion stance and contempt for Roe v. Wade has caused disagreement about what she could mean for the feminist movement. Politico opinion author Erika Bachiochi believes that rather than empowering women, “constitutionaling the right to abortion (…) has relieved men of the mutual responsibilities that accompany sex” and care for children that “fathers ought equally to share.” Barrett’s proposition of a new kind of feminism seeks sexual equality in preventing “men’s capacity to walk away from an unexpected pregnancy through abortion;” however modern feminists believe men should be taken out of the equation altogether. Furthermore, defenders of Barrett’s anti-abortion stance fail to acknowledge abortion-seekers who are underage, abandoned, or impregnated through rape or incest and lack a co-parent. Economic status is another factor ignored by Barrett, whose upper-middle class background is worthy of note.  Her feminist theory is built upon the belief that balancing the responsibility of parenting will eliminate the need for abortion and bring more women into the workforce, but many feminists view this platform as superficial. Barrett’s hardline stance against abortion isn’t just an attack on the law itself, Johnson writes, “it’s an active threat” against a woman’s “control over her own career, her own life, her own body,” and in its consideration of male responsibility, anti-feminist.  

Even before Ginsburg’s death, President Trump made his ambitions for electing a conservative judge to the Supreme Court clear. Furthermore, at every opportunity, he vocalized his intention for the elect to be female. While his party probably envisioned feminists applauding at his generosity, this kind of move is detrimental to the movement and denigrates women to nothing more than “interchangeable pieces in a political game.” In declaring that he would elect a female judge, Trump essentially admitted to disregarding the context and compatibility of his nominee, reducing her worth to an object of appeasement. Not only does this mindset discredit female success, but it is also an insult to working women everywhere who Barrett is supposed to represent. 

Many critics and supporters of Barrett, especially in a time when tension is high, tend to mix emotion into their defense while ignoring key aspects that make her a unique candidate. Those in her defense, including government figures, focus on her background as an ambitious working mother─a type of conservative feminist. Modern pro-choice feminists, promoting a “sex-without-consequences” base, are her biggest critics. They tend to skip over her traditional, second-wave-esque feminist background altogether and critique her stance on abortion. Ignoring other qualities of her platform that are problematic and focusing on reproductive rights alone will do more harm than good. Nevertheless, all eyes are on Amy Coney Barrett as she vies for the open Supreme Court seat, and, with election day only a month away, it will be interesting to watch the next few weeks play out.