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A True Champion for Health and Human Rights, Justice Ginsburg

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

September 23, 2020

A message written by Nina Sun, JD, Deputy Director of Global Health and Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Community Health and Prevention:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away last Friday, September 18, 2020. She was an extraordinarily pioneer of women’s rights and equality, establishing, amongst other standards, legal recognition of discrimination on the basis of sex. While many articles have already been written about her as a brilliant jurist and lawyer, fewer have delved into her contribution to advancing public and reproductive health.

Justice Ginsburg’s work has consistently protected and advocated for reproductive rights and the right to health. She took, as a starting point, a public health evidence base, combined with a profound understanding about the impact of social and legal determinants of health.

In 2014, when the Supreme Court ruled that a company could deny its employees contraception insurance coverage due to religious objections, Justice Ginsburg spoke out in dissent. She highlighted the importance of contraceptive access for women – that the ability of women to control their reproductive lives promotes greater equity and participation in the economy and society. She also acknowledged the barriers that women face in obtaining any type of essential health care and that increased access to contraceptives would result in advantages for public health.  

Two years later, Justice Ginsburg joined the majority when the Supreme Court struck down the Texas law that mandated burdensome requirements for clinics that provide abortion services. Based on evidence presented by public health and medical organizations, Justice Ginsburg, noted that “When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners, faute de mieux, at great risk to their health and safety.” While the restrictions in Texas had an impact on all women, they disproportionately impacted Latina and immigrant women. Striking down the law allowed reproductive health clinics to continue to operate, as well as some shuttered clinics to re-open, providing women more access to a range of family planning and reproductive health services.

Justice Ginsburg devoted her life to advancing gender equality and non-discrimination – her work was, and continues to be, instrumental in crafting and enacting systems that not only advance the rights of women, racial and other minorities, but also enable access to essential health services. Thus, her passing is not only a loss for the legal community, but a significant loss for the public health and medical communities.

So thank you, Justice Ginsburg, for being a true champion for health and human rights. Your work remains an inspiration for human rights and social justice advocates. We look forward to building upon your legacy.