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Can American Women Trust Senator Sessions?

Senator’s Hostile Record on Women’s Rights is Deeply Concerning

To trust or not to trust? The US Senate confirmation hearings for Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General have so far focused on whether he would enforce laws that he has vociferously opposed in a decades-long political career. A particular area of contention is women’s rights.

Under questioning, Sessions said he stands by his previous statement that Roe vs Wade – a landmark US Supreme Court decision affirming women’s right to an abortion – was a “colossal” mistake, and one of the Supreme Court’s most erroneous decisions. He said he believes the court ruling violates the US Constitution, but now that it has been settled as the law of the land, he would respect it and follow it.

U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Sessions to become U.S. attorney general on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., January 10, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

But “following the law” is not the same as aggressively enforcing the law and defending it from attack.

As Attorney General, Sessions would have wide discretion on when to use Justice Department tools to enforce federal laws, or conversely, when to leave them unprotected by neglect.

If confirmed, Sessions would be responsible for enforcing many laws which he voted against, and ones where he repeatedly made clear that he does not believe there should be federal involvement. This includes all provisions of the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence against Women Act, laws addressing the pay gap between women and men, and many reproductive rights protections, including Title X of the Public Health Service Act, which supports family planning and preventive health services for low income women.

Reproductive health care providers might justly ask where they would fall in terms of priorities – would Sessions as Attorney General realistically prosecute violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, a law that protects abortion providers from intimidation and violence?

National Abortion Federation figures show there have been 11 murders, 26 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 185 arson attacks and thousands of other criminal acts against abortion providers since 1977. A climate of impunity would be particularly dangerous given the looming battles in the US over access to reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion, that will take place both at state and national levels.

During this week’s hearings Senator Jeff Sessions repeatedly said he would follow the law, but he failed to make a convincing case that he would be a tough watchdog, one willing to impartially and vigorously defend laws that fly against his personal and political beliefs. Combined with his troubling record on a wide array of other civil rights, the Senate should vote against his confirmation.

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