Sexual assault and reproductive rights are inherently linked, according to #VOTEPROCHOICE, an abortion rights organization that created a fundraiser for Christine Blasey Ford. And in the wake of the allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh from Ford and Deborah Ramirez, #VOTEPROCHOICE partnered with actor Alyssa Milano and 19 other advocacy groups to raise money for them — and any other women who might speak out against Kavanaugh.
Titled "WE BELIEVE ALL THE WOMEN," the GoFundMe is raising money that will go to Ford's "legal and communications strategy," according to the page. Heidi Sieck, the coalition organizer and cofounder for #VOTEPROCHOICE, says the GoFundMe grew out of a "real urgency and love" for Ford and what she is going through. She and advocates from First Ask, Trans United Fund, and March On tell Bustle that the fundraiser hopes to elevate Ford's story, which they say is strongly linked to reproductive rights and the fundamental right to bodily autonomy.
"Sexual assault, rape, [and] attempted rape, is an extreme version of the reality that women are going through in their lives"
Ford alleged that Kavanaugh tried to rape her at a high school party in the '80s in an interview with The Washington Post on Sept. 16. And Ramirez later told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a party when they were freshman at Yale. Kavanaugh has denied all of the allegations, and Bustle has reached out to his representatives for comment. He specifically addressed Ramirez's allegations in a recent statement via the White House:
This alleged event from 35 years ago did not happen. The people who knew me then know that this did not happen, and have said so. This is a smear, plain and simple.
Since Ford revealed her identity, she has received death threats and has been forced to leave her home with her two teenage sons, according to The New York Times.
Sieck tells Bustle that #VOTEPROCHOICE started the fundraiser to support Kavanaugh accusers, because sexual assault and abortion rights are intertwined.
"Sexual assault, rape, [and] attempted rape, is an extreme version of the reality that women are going through in their lives when they’re navigating sexuality," Seick says. "If women are at risk for violence and sexual assault and attack and rape, [and] if we don’t have access to ... a full range of reproductive health services, from making sure that rape kits are handled properly to birth control, emergency contraception, and abortion, we are in a dire situation."
Reproductive rights advocates have opposed Kavanaugh from the beginning because of his stance on issues like access to birth control and abortion. During his confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh answered a question about a court case where he supported Priests for Life in their claims that forcing them to cover birth control under the Affordable Care act violated their religious beliefs. Kavanaugh referred to birth control as "abortion-inducing drugs," though he was quoting Priests For Life, according to Politifact. He never endorsed or objected to the idea that birth control can induce abortion.
The allegations against Kavanaugh — and the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee's reluctance to hear them — are worrying advocates even more. Daye Pope, an organizing director for Trans United Fund, says there's a connection between Kavanaugh's "desire to take away the rights of women to our own bodies when it comes to reproductive health care" and Ford's accusations. Pope says the two reveal a dangerous "distinct pattern with Kavanaugh of trying to take away women’s agency."
Advocates say that pattern isn't unique to Kavanaugh, though — Emily Blumberg, the director of First Ask, an organization that recruits women to run for office, says the group partnered with #VOTEPROCHOICE for the fundraiser in part because it was incredibly disappointed by GOP lawmakers' response to Kavanaugh's accusers.
“We are seeing that this refusal to believe women is because men really don’t understand what it is to be a woman."
GOP Senate Judiciary Committee members have resisted Ford's request for an FBI investigation, and have also gone back and forth with her lawyers on when and how she will testify in front of them. Blumberg doesn't believe Ford would have met so much resistance if women were more represented in Congress.
“We are seeing that this refusal to believe women is because men really don’t understand what it is to be a woman," Blumberg says, "whether, unfortunately, it is surviving sexual assault or what it is to have reproductive justice."
She says Kavanaugh's comment about birth control "shows not only the lack of understanding" of women, "but the refusal to try to understand.”
Pope says financial support for Ford might help break the cycle we often see when a survivor comes forward: they share their story, they face retaliation or high legal fees from their alleged assailant, the accuser returns to silence, and the accused maintains power.
"The horrible things that have happened to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford have happened to other survivors who come out, which is that powerful men will retaliate," Pope says. "They’ll retaliate sometimes with legal action that they aren’t likely to actually win, but that does cost the survivor money to defend against. They’ll sometimes retaliate by using their positions of power and privilege to make it harder for that person to get a job or to move forward with their lives."
"If we had representatives that actually represented women and our needs and our concerns, then they wouldn’t have even nominated Kavanaugh"
Vanessa Wruble, co-founder of the Women's March on Washington, says the fundraiser is an effort to provide Ford and Ramirez with "a nation of women" who have their backs, and in the process also show voters how they can stop history from repeating itself if Kavanaugh is confirmed. “If we had representatives that actually represented women and our needs and our concerns, then they wouldn’t have even nominated Kavanaugh based on his horrible record on reproductive rights alone," Wruble says.
Even if Kavanaugh is confirmed, Wruble says the #VOTEPROCHOICE fundraiser and hashtags that people are using to share their stories of assault and harassment in light of Ford's allegations are sending a message to lawmakers: “I think it shows that women are not going away, and they are not backing down.”