All evidence suggests he will use his position on the supreme court to limit the freedom of women - which may have deadly consequences
He spat, wept, screamed and hissed in front of the Senate judiciary committee, hysterically claiming a conspiracy against him on the part of his political enemies, and for feminists, a sense of mournful recognition fell. We have seen male bullies before; we know that their petulance and bloviating is a deliberate strategy, that they often get their way simply by seeming indignant that anyone could think it should be otherwise. It could not, this time, be otherwise.
The arch-conservative and man accused of multiple sexual assaults, Brett Kavanaugh, was confirmed to the US supreme court. He was sworn in wearing a too-small suit, ruddy-faced and looking every bit the teenage frat boy, on a Bible held by his wife. His two young daughters looked on, each with her hands clasped daintily over her pelvis.
There is no delicate way to put this: because of Kavanaugh's appointment to the US supreme court, the future will be more painful and less free for American women than the recent past has been. First, this is because his appointment, despite multiple credible allegations of sexual assault against him and one woman's devastating televised testimony about his alleged attempt to rape her, reaffirms the impunity of misogynist men and the political inconsequence of women's suffering. Any woman who thought that her pain might matter more to the government than a privileged white man's sense of entitlement has been proven wrong.
But what will be even more devastating to American women is the power that Kavanaugh will now have over their lives, power that will last decades, and which all evidence suggests he will use to limit their freedom. Roe v Wade will soon be gutted, if not outright overturned, and the vast swaths of the country where state governments are hostile to women's rights will outlaw the practice. Women will go into debt in order to travel to places where they can get abortions, and when they cannot travel, they will attempt to induce abortions themselves.
They will take mysterious pills they buy online, they will attempt obscure herbal remedies, and combinations of hot baths and gin. They will throw themselves down staircases, and they will throw themselves out of windows. They will make toxic solutions with cleaning supplies, and attempt to force those solutions into the uterus with a syringe. Many will try to pierce their own cervixes with long, sharp objects -not only the proverbial coat hangers but also, according to the pre-Roe New York City gynecologist Dr Waldo Fielding, with "darning needles, crochet hooks, cut-glass salt shakers, soda bottles, sometimes intact, sometimes with the top broken off".
Among these women, the lucky will end their pregnancies without being caught or hurting themselves. They will not all be lucky. Many of these women will injure themselves badly enough that they will die. Others will develop infections, sometimes severe, and some of those infections will turn into sepsis. Some of them will also die. Some of those women will puncture their internal organs, ripping themselves apart from the inside, or they will take the wrong medication, or the wrong combination of medications, and will develop a hemorrhage. And they will die.
All of this has been recounted, over and over again, by feminists, and none of it is unknown to Kavanaugh, or to the senators who voted to confirm him. And yet he was confirmed anyway, and he will usher this wave of female pain from the realm of the possible into the realm of the inevitable. Again, any woman who thought that her suffering might matter more to the government than a privileged white man's sense of entitlement has been proven wrong.
In the worst case, Republicans may put forward a federal ban on abortion that would outlaw the practice nationwide, or a personhood amendment that would grant legal rights to fetuses. They may push an extreme interpretation of religious freedom that would prohibit any laws at the state or local level protecting LGBT rights or women's healthcare. Kavanaugh will be able to swing the court far enough to the right to protect and enshrine these measures. These, again, are the worst-case scenarios, the most extreme possible outcomes. But the past two years of American politics have shown us that the most extreme outcome is not necessarily the least likely one.
The task for feminists now is grim. We will have our work undone, and we will have to conquer our own exhaustion and grief in order to redo it. We will have to carry on a fight that we will not live to win. This is the reality of any fight for justice: that while there are moments of triumph, there is no final victory, no end date at which oppression, sexist or otherwise, will finally be overthrown. We fight on not because we think we will one day triumph over male supremacy, but because fighting is the right thing to do.
The power of the US supreme court is so great, and the forces allied against women's freedom and reproductive rights are so fervent, that many of the women who will be hurt and killed by the decisions that Kavanaugh will make on the court are already adults. They are buying groceries, doing their homework, sitting in traffic. They are on the phone with their mothers, saying that they're stressed about the news. It is now the feminist duty to work to protect them, to fight for their freedoms and to do everything we can to minimize their suffering - even against impossible odds.