In wake of Judge Kavanaugh's elevation to the court, the issue becomes even more pressing
With Brett Kavanaugh now installed on the Supreme Court, after one of the closest confirmation votes in Senate history, the question returns to how he is likely to rule on a variety of issues, none of them more important than Roe v. Wade.
For anyone concerned about the future of the court's 1973 ruling on abortion rights, the new documentary Reversing Roe comes at a perfect time. The film directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg began streaming on Netflix in the midst of the battle over Kavanaugh's nomination.
It's only a matter of time before the right case bubbles back up to the Supreme Court.
"We had just finished the film when Justice Kennedy's [retirement] announcement surprised so many people," Sundberg explained in an interview with Nonfictionfilm.com. "We ended up reopening the end of the film to include this potential shift in the court."
Stern and Sundberg's film documents the shifting politics of abortion rights over time and how the religious right implemented a longterm strategy to get Roe overturned.
"Our goal all along with this film was to give some historical and cultural context to just how politicized abortion has become," Sundberg noted. "We're seeing how it's become used as a political wedge tool and how Supreme Court nominations can really impact the lives and health of women."
The history revealed in the film may surprise many viewers. As the directors show, it used to be Republicans who were protectors of abortion rights.
"What was interesting for us going back is to realize is that it was these Republican governors in states -- Ronald Reagan in particular in California -- who signed some of the more liberalized abortion reform acts," Stern observed. "It seemed to make sense -- freedom over your body, less government, bodily autonomy -- that sort of fell within the tenets of the Republican Party... That has really changed over time."
The election of Reagan in 1980, on an anti-abortion platform, marked a key moment in the political dynamics of the issue.
"In the late 70s and early 80s, specifically with Ronald Reagan [the anti-abortion plank] became very firmly entrenched in the Republican Party and the Republican Party became the pro-life party in order to bring in these voters, primarily evangelical voters, who had been untapped as a voting body prior to then."
The abortion issue has become so closely identified with the GOP and the right that very few politicians with an "R" after their name favor abortion rights. Nowhere is that more true than in the Lone Star State.
"If you want to run for office in Texas," Stern comments, "you have to claim pro-life principles, even if you're a financial officer or you're in agriculture."
The same effectively held true for Donald Trump, who earlier in his life was in favor of abortion rights, but then ran for president as a pro-life Republican.
"Part of his campaign was saying he would appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court and they would ultimately be faced with a Roe v. Wade decision," Stern reminded us. "That really was part of Trump's pledge and something he was asked to pledge in order to receive the evangelical vote."
When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell successfully blocked President Obama from filling the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Antonin Scalia, Trump -- once in office -- chose Neil Gorsuch to fill it. The judge's name had appeared on a list of potential Supreme Court nominees pre-approved by the conservative Federalist Society.
Brett Kavanaugh's name appeared on an updated version of that list. As to how now Justice Kavanaugh will vote on any case that could overturn Roe v. Wade, the directors are equivocal.
"I don't know that anyone can really predict whether the Roe v Wade decision will be overturned," Stern maintained, adding, "No matter who you ask, on either side of this issue, there's a strong agreement that the Supreme Court will rule on cases that will make their way up from district courts, appeals courts, that will put in front of the Supreme Court other laws in states that have greater restrictions and requirements for abortion providers and that this more conservative court will rule in favor of those restrictions."
"There's potential for overturning," Sundberg asserts. "It's only a matter of time before the right case bubbles back up to the Supreme Court."
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.