What did Justice Ruth Ginsburg mean when she said “populations that we don’t want to have too many of”?

Read this GetReligion post and ask yourself, what could she possibly mean?

This section of a New York Magazine article out this week is what is at the focus of what should be significant controversy.

Q: If you were a lawyer again, what would you want to accomplish as a future feminist legal agenda?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Reproductive choice has to be straightened out. There will never be a woman of means without choice anymore. That just seems to me so obvious. The states that had changed their abortion laws before Roe [to make abortion legal] are not going to change back. So we have a policy that affects only poor women, and it can never be otherwise, and I don’t know why this hasn’t been said more often.

Q: Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid for abortions for poor women?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae — in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.

Roe was decided in the way it was to curb population growth? — “…particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”

Which populations would those be, Justice Ginsburg?

And we may never know because the no one writing for a big paper or news outlet (save the UK Telegraph) has picked up this story.

Message to the US Senate: Please ask Sotomayor if she believes Roe was decided in order to help set up Medicaid funding to support aborting certain populations.

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  • Mary

    Oh boy – can she ask for a do over?

  • How does one wiggle out of those words? Won’t that be fun to watch when our crack American media does its job and ferrets out her words!!!

    I mean…our crack American media WILL do its job and find out, won’t it?

  • Scary stuff. The truth has a way of being outed.

  • hazemyth

    I’ll agree that the statement is problematic. I, too, would like clarification. However, in the absence of such clarification, it seems you may be reading a lot into it.

    Your final summation seems to me a mis-characterization of Ginsburg’s statements. Particularly, “aborting certain populations” is a very leading phrase that does not resemble Ginsburg’s language. She seems concerned with providing abortions to certain populations, which is not the same as ‘aborting’ those populations. Firstly, such policy as she advocates would result in abortions among those populations. Secondly, there is a key difference between a government policy making voluntary abortions available and government policy for abortions per se. Ginsburg certainly wasn’t in favor of mandating abortions for certain populations — she’s clear in her concern about government coercion. Your phrase might be read to imply otherwise.

    Lastly, as a question, this summation is loaded. It packs several complex issues together, such as the relation between Roe v. Wade and Medicaid, the general role of policy in jurisprudence, and particularly policies regarding population growth. Also, do you mean to ask Sotomayer about SCOTUS’s intent in deciding Roe v. Wade?

    I’m sorry if I’m being very semantic but, after all, we are talking about the interpretation of statements.

  • hazemyth – I have several past speeches and essays from Justice Ginsburg where she knew that the intent of some at the time was to strive for population control. She did not condemn this aim. Furthermore, she promoted government funding for abortions throughout her career. So given her assumption that Roe was in part to control the growth of populations (you know the ones we dont want to have too many of), why would she support federal funding, if she was opposed to this kind of control?

  • hazemyth

    It depends on what kind of control you mean. I doubt Ginsburg was advocating coercive population control in the Chinese vein. Do you know of statements that are more explicit in this regard? Voluntary population control, especially through simple abstinence or contraception, might not be a bad thing. Or do you disagree?

    And, again, I agree that ‘the ones we don’t want too many of’ is very disturbing… but also ambiguous. It could be poorly worded — very poorly worded. It’s likely that her intent, whatever it was, is problematic in some way or other. But, respectfully, the statement in itself is still not so clear as to be damning.

  • I doubt she was going for coercion either. I do think social engineering is a bad thing. Abstinence and contraception is a good thing but I do not support targeting it via court cases or legislation toward certain populations.

    Not sure it is damning, but I would like some Supreme Court reporter to ask her who she was referring to.

  • Lynn David

    Dangling a preposition? Who knows…..


    My guess is she was thinking of those in poor shape economically. Those who could not afford more mouths to feed or on welfare, and thus not a statement considering of ethnicity.

  • Eddy

    I just love it when the questioner injects their own POV into their apparently ‘open question’.

    Q: Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid for abortions for poor women?

    Instead of ‘can you elaborate?’ or ‘what did you mean by that?’

  • Eddy – They know each well. And GInsburg confirmed the question. Where the elaboration would have been appropriate as well would have been to ask “who are we?” and “which populations?”