OPINION - Emily Sheffield: Dark days ahead for American women if Joe Biden doesn’t step up on abortion

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·5-min read
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 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

How many of you remember the explosive sexual assault allegations levelled against Justice Brett Kavanaugh by psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, allegations he in turn vehemently denied? At the time America was gripped — as were we. It was 2018, MeToo was raging and Kavanaugh was Donald Trump’s ultra-conservative choice to join the Supreme Court. Trump had repeatedly made clear he wanted to roll back abortion rights and turning the court in his favour was key.

Dr Ford, below, had reluctantly emerged during Kavanaugh’s highly controversial nomination to accuse him of sexually assaulting her at university. “Seared into my hippocampus”, she recalled at the Senate judiciary hearing, was the “uproarious laughter” of Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge, who also denied the claims, as they allegedly trapped her in a bedroom at a party in the Eighties. She claimed Kavanaugh pinned her to the bed as he tried to remove her clothes: “They were having fun at my expense. I was underneath one of them while the two laughed.” Trump took to mocking Dr Ford on Twitter.

Kavanaugh, who had previously served as an adviser to George W Bush, is now on the Supreme Court. And the reason why many feared his appointment has come to pass. Along with two other Trump appointments, Amy Coney Barrett and Neil Gorsuch, the ideological balance of the highest American court was tipped in favour of conservative justices six to three.

In vast swathes of the US, a post-Roe world is easy to envisage because it has already arrived. In Missouri, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota there is only one abortion clinic in each state. In Texas, once a foetal heartbeat is detectable at about six weeks, abortion is strictly prohibited.

A draft opinion leaked on Monday confirmed campaigners’ worst fears: that the Supreme Court might be close to overturning Roe v Wade, the landmark decision that guaranteed abortion access. America may be just two months away from turning back the clock 50 years on women’s rights. Most of the 26 states that will ban abortion also have the least social support for the very women who will be forced to raise a child they don’t want and cannot afford, tumbling them further into crippling poverty.

If there is some practical hope, it is that the abortion pill is widely available online, unlike the grim times when coat hangers and back street doctors had to make do. But pro-abortion campaigners are already concerned that this vital pill will be next on the hit list.

My first thought on hearing the news this week was that surely we can put aside the panicked hysteria. Biden would never let this happen. Liberal America will galvanise around this cause ahead of the November midterms, making it a central campaigning issue. After all, when polled, 58 per cent of Americans said they want to keep abortion legal.

Now my early confidence is wavering. Quite how committed Biden is to the cause remains in the balance. He’s a staunch Catholic who was pro-life in his early political career. As the New York Times noted yesterday, he evolved into a “seemingly reluctant and largely quiet supporter”, only mentioning abortion out loud for the first time this week. And he left his vice president, Kamala Harris, to deliver the full battle roar many fearful women wanted to hear. Biden is going to be thrown into the role of publicly fighting for something his religion vehemently opposes. And such is the power of pro-life opposition that this has to be a noisy, sustained war, led by an impassioned leader.

After his lacklustre speech on Wednesday, officials were forced to insist the president was going to use whatever powers he possesses to counter any ruling. But there were no new or specific ideas forthcoming, and the reality is there are limits to Biden’s authority. An ongoing Democratic campaign to pass a federal law in Congress to protect abortion rights is unlikely to get the 60 votes needed in the Senate. And attempts to change filibuster laws to lower that 60-vote threshold to 50 are also certain to fail, as key Democrats oppose it.

Dr Ford risked everything to try to prevent Kavanaugh reaching that position of power. Many need to channel her bravery and determination. Because what’s clear is that Democrats on Capitol Hill have already been outmanoeuvred by their adversaries, who have been plotting this moment for a decade. Unless Biden steps up, there are dark days ahead for America’s women.

Starmer has yet to convince the voters

The Conservatives may have suffered symbolic defeats in London — Wandsworth, Barnet and especially Westminster — but it’s unlikely these local elections have the momentum to threaten Boris Johnson’s leadership. The loss of these three key councils will hurt the pride of London’s former mayor but it’s the Liberal Democrats that have made the most gains nationally, not Labour. As we brace for a recession, with interest rates rising, inflation and the cost-of-living soaring, what will be crucial in the next election is the economy. Sir Keir Starmer, after 12 years of Tory rule, hasn’t convinced yet. Voters are waiting.

Marilyn would have liked Kim wearing her famous dress

 (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
(Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Much consternation seems to be swirling furiously around Kim Kardashian borrowing the infamous translucent sequin dress in which Marilyn Monroe serenaded President John F Kennedy to celebrate his 45th birthday in 1962. Now 60 years later, Kim, above, had the audacity to take that dress to the Met Gala. Criticism doesn’t seem to amount to much more than how dare she, with a side order of sanctimonious chirping about how it should be in a museum. I always felt with Marilyn, that beneath the breathy, bosomy, fragile gorgeousness, was tough ambition. She wasn’t a victim but a woman who understood the male structure she operated in, and it made her miserable. I’ve met Kim and she struck me as smart, extremely charming and very much in control of both her destiny and her fame. Actually, I think Marilyn would have approved.

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