LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sets up a brutal nominating fight in the midst of a presidential campaign. The outcome of that process will affect many contentious issues. One of the most prominent is abortion rights. As NPR's Sarah McCammon reports, activists say this could be a turning point in the decades-long fight over reproductive rights.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Outside the U.S. Supreme Court, mourners have been huddling with family and friends, many leaving bouquets of flowers in honor of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Among them was Anna Lashley, an attorney from Washington, D.C., who came with her 14-month-old daughter. Now President Trump appears poised to name his third Supreme Court nominee in less than four years, tilting the court even further to the right. And that worries Lashley.
ANNA LASHLEY: I'm terrified for women in this country. I'm very concerned about what it will mean for Roe v. Wade going forward. I'm worried that other people aren't going to be able to take up the fight that she did for us.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Without Ginsburg's reliable liberal vote and her consistent voice for reproductive rights, Renee-Lauren Ellis has similar fears about the future of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. Ellis, who's also a lawyer in the D.C. area, said she's afraid of going back.
RENEE-LAUREN ELLIS: It's dire that something as fundamental as what I do with my body is up for debate still in 2020.
MCCAMMON: For those opposed to abortion rights, a Supreme Court vacancy just weeks before a presidential election also marks a pivot point.
MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: For the pro-life movement and the work that we do there, this is the moment that we've been building towards.
MCCAMMON: Marjorie Dannenfelser is with the anti-abortion rights group the Susan B. Anthony List, which has spent years working to elect Republican senators and confirm conservative judges and has staunchly supported President Trump and his judicial nominees. Dannenfelser says she and her family happened to be sitting outside the Supreme Court on Friday evening when they heard the news of Ginsburg's passing.
DANNENFELSER: It was such a sense of profound meaning about her that we felt in her passing and also a moment of change that, in this place that we're sitting, will be the pivot point of change in our country.
MCCAMMON: Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Alexis McGill Johnson agrees that there's a lot at stake.
ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON: The fate of our rights, our freedoms, our health care, our bodies, our lives, our country literally depends on what happens over the coming months.
MCCAMMON: Abortion rights groups, including Planned Parenthood and NARAL, say they'll be working to apply pressure to potentially vulnerable Republican senators facing re-election now or in 2022 to hold off on naming a replacement for Ginsburg until after the November election. McGill Johnson notes that four years ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell famously refused to hold hearings to consider President Obama's nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. At that time, the presidential election was more than eight months away, and McConnell argued it was too close. Now with the election about six weeks away, McConnell is promising to work quickly to confirm a Trump nominee.
JOHNSON: I would say that Mitch McConnell keeps making up the rules to suit his desires and his will to maintain power. And I think it's - you know, in a democracy, it's really important that we all play by the same rules. We keep making up rules to justify power grabs. And I think that's unacceptable.
MCCAMMON: With so many contentious issues, including the future of abortion rights, at stake, those rules will surely be put to the test in the coming weeks.
Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington.
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