Gallman: Do women’s lives matter to federal courts?

Published 4:31 pm Thursday, February 23, 2023

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By Vanessa Gallman

Kentucky Lantern

Far-reaching legal cases, including a ruling by a Kentucky federal judge, raise serious concerns about whether the lives of women — and their decisions about their own lives — really matter.

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On Feb. 2, a Texas appellate court issued a ruling that it was unconstitutional to remove guns from abusive domestic partners, putting more women and children in the crosshairs. That same day, U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves in Lexington made a similar ruling in the case of a Harrison County man. Appeals are expected in both cases.

The justification for such troubling decisions: It’s what men of colonial times would have decided.

This “mind meld” with the long-gone ignores that — in the here and now — an average of 70 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner every month in this country. Abusers with firearms are five times more likely to kill their female victims. Kentucky has the second-highest rate of domestic violence, according to reported data.

These court decisions leave survivors “even more vulnerable, putting them at increased risk of abuse, injury, and death,” according to the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence, representing 15 organizations across the state. “When people who commit domestic violence have access to firearms, the lethality risk increases by 1,000 percent for survivors, their families, and for community members.”

The resurrection of gun laws from the late 1700s is based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year against New York’s concealed-carry restrictions. The high court declared that Second Amendment cases must be decided “consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

Many judges, who depended on a 30-year federal law calling for gun removal, are now struggling with new, murky guidelines. The Texas appeals court initially ruled for gun removal, but the case was refiled after the Supreme Court ruling.

The three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a man who pleaded guilty to violating a protective order for threatening his ex-girlfriend, their child and a neighbor at gunpoint, can keep his weapons.

In the Kentucky case, police visited a man who was harassing his wife by text and found him with a pistol, which violated a protective order. He still faces a charge for lying to a gun dealer about not being under court order when purchasing the revolver. Yet, he is not in trouble for lying to the courts about even possessing a gun.

The U.S. Department of Justice, which will appeal the Texas case, argues that guns were taken away from dangerous people during the nation’s early years. The appellate judges, two appointed by President Trump and a third appointed by President Reagan, responded: “The purpose of these ‘dangerou­sness’ laws was the preservation of political and social order, not the protection of an identified person from the specific threat posed by another.”

By that logic, no one using a gun to kill or threaten someone could be seen as a danger to the “political and social order.” The way the country is headed, gun rights will take priority over all other rights, including the right to life.

Unless, of course, it’s the life of the unborn.

The crusade to control women’s reproductive decisions has shifted from closing clinics to denying legal abortion medication. Activists and Republican attorneys general, including Kentucky’s Daniel Cameron, threaten drug chains willing to sell the medicine.

This has serious consequences for women in Kentucky, where abortion is still illegal — despite voter rejection of an anti-abortion ballot measure. The state Supreme Court has yet to sort through the legalities of multiple abortion bans passed by the legislature.

The pills — mifepristone and misoprostol — have been safely used for 22 years and are required to be taken during the first 10 weeks of gestation. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of federal abortion rights last year, the Biden administration has approved prescriptions by mail, through telehealth and from pharmacies.

A group called The Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine is suing the Food and Drug Administration for approving the pills. The lawsuit claims approval was not done legally and is not supported by evidence of safety and efficacy. Courts and federal agencies have disputed such claims in the past. Yet an injunction from the judge could stop nationwide distribution.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, appointed by Donald Trump in 2019, is a former attorney for a Christian legal advocacy group. He has argued against abortion, same-sex marriage, no-fault divorce, birth control and sex outside of marriage. He set a Feb. 24 for final briefs in the pills case.

On Jan. 22 — the 50th anniversary of the overturned Roe v. Wade abortion ruling — Vice President Kamala Harris, at a Florida rally, read an order calling on government agencies to protect privacy and abortion access, including to the pills.

“Let us not be tired or discouraged, because we’re on the right side of history,” she told the crowd.

Vanessa Gallman, a Kentucky Lantern freelance columnist, worked for more than two decades as editorial page editor for the Lexington Herald-Leader.