The death of a revered public figure is never easy to accept. One minute, she is a living icon. The next, her death is the biggest headline on Twitter’s news feed. Impersonal or not, there is something so visceral about seeing someone’s Wikipedia biography change from “is” to “was.” This linguistic change, though seemingly minor, signifies the loss of something vital.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death was far from unpredictable, yet the news was somehow unexpected. I have seen the slogan You’re not voting for Biden, you’re voting for RBG’s replacement far more times than I can count. But still, I was overcome by a combination of shock, anger, sadness, and frustration when the inevitable materialized. For the fourth time this year, I was notified about an untimely loss on Twitter. It was a brief notification, but it carried heavy implications.
After learning of RBG’s death, my first instinct was to post on social media. I’m not sure if this action was a coping mechanism, an act of remembrance, or a political statement. It’s quite possible that it was all of those things at once. From what I have seen, I am not alone in this sentiment. In the days following RBG’s death, there have been countless social media posts — ranging from memoriams to acute political commentaries — thrown intermittently onto my feed like day-old confetti. Her face has been reproduced so many times that it’s become abstract, comparable to Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych.
Mere hours after the news was published, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his plan to hold a full Senate vote on her replacement. Just four years ago, he blocked any hearing for prospective justice Merrick Garland (nominated by President Obama) on the grounds that it was an election year. Now, the election is even closer, and the stakes are even higher. A Kentucky politician, with the backing of almost all of his GOP colleagues, is taking advantage of a long-predicted opening to further entrench his conservative ideology on the Supreme Court for decades to come.
McConnell’s blatant hypocrisy, lack of regard for RBG’s life, and power grab even as votes are being cast in the presidential election were enough to turn my sadness into anger, my mourning into seething. I fell prey to my Twitter fingers, made proper use of expletives, and tried so hard to write but could not find the words.
Perhaps the most evident right at risk is the ability to access a safe and legal abortion. Since the Supreme Court decision in the 1973 case Roe v. Wade, women have been guaranteed the right to have an abortion based on “penumbras and emanations asserting an implied right to privacy in the ninth and fourteenth amendments.” Chief Justice John Roberts has issued anti-choice rulings but has moved cautiously against the 47-year-old precedent. But with a key liberal justice gone, and a Trump-appointed justice filling her seat, conservatives would be in the perfect position to decimate abortion rights by overturning Roe.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been obvious limitations on a woman’s right to an abortion. For instance, in 2017, 96% of Texas counties did not have a single abortion clinic. Currently, four states require that women receive an ultrasound before undergoing the procedure. In 2019, Alabama went so far as to almost entirely ban abortions. But where these regulations have been criticized, they may now be legitimized. The disparity between states that will keep abortion legal and those that will abolish it will undermine the concept of equal access. Geographic barriers will inform human rights, heightening inequality and favoring the partisan agenda of Trump and McConnell.
To see the death of someone who worked her entire life to ensure gender equality transformed within minutes into a likely triumph for the forces she fought against as a lawyer and justice is a harsh reality indeed. Worst of all, it feels as though we are powerless against authority, able to tweet our opinions but unable to enact any real change.
A remarkable human life has been lost. At the same time, a political setback has jeopardized gender equality. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was and is a fundamental figure in American history. We may mourn the loss of a prominent figure, but simultaneously, we must prepare for the inevitable fight.