A Tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Like so many of you, I have been devastated by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death last Friday.  I’ve also been reflecting on the magnitude of what she accomplished. And on this: our rights as women now hang by a thin thread, given anticipated changes to the Supreme Court.  Finally, I’m seared by the fact that we are less than six weeks away from the presidential election. Justice Ginsburg’s death brings into sharp relief all that she accomplished for women’s rights.  Capturing what Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life meant to me would take an entire book. Fortunately, others have done that for us (via a comprehensive biography and other works).  So I’ll share here some of my initial thoughts.


I’ll start with what she symbolized for me on a personal level: she showed that size doesn’t matter.  Just over 5 feet tall, she proved that true stature does not need to come in 6 foot tall, loud, male package. Her legacy is historic. She wielded incredible power through her words and deeds. As someone who has been routinely underestimated due to my size and gender, this is especially meaningful.  She was also inspiring to older women, including my mother and her friends, proving that you can work out and do planks well into your eighties (for proof, I highly recommend “RBG,” a fabulous documentary of her life – I just watched it again last weekend with my family.)

She also exemplified persistence, arguing numerous cases before the Supreme Court, through which she built a path toward gender equality, step by step. As only the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court, she knew that “women belong in all the places decisions are being made…”


Which brings me to health reform.  Her now famous statement that “women belong in all the places decisions are being made” is one of my all-time favorite quotes. I included it in my book as the lead-in to the chapter on health reform solutions.  I, too, have seen that we cannot have true fairness in our policies if women are not at the table, in seats of power where they can decide or strongly influence the outcome.  Decades ago, Ruth paved the way for this to happen. And health reform proves the point.

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was being formulated, it was women who got it over the finish line.  Nancy Pelosi exerted extraordinary leadership to get the bill through Congress, and she was ably supported by countless women who held senior staff positions in the White House and on the Hill, as well as external stakeholders (like Karen Ignani from America’s Health Insurance Plans, a powerful lobby group), as documented in this terrific piece from Brookings by Nancy-Ann DeParle and Jeanne Lambrew.

When the ACA was threatened with repeal in 2017, it was women who came forward in droves to protect it, showing up at town hall meetings, calling members of Congress, and going to the mat to defend people with pre-existing conditions.  And women seized positions in the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, setting a new record (24% of Congressional seats).  Women are “healthcare voters” and they prioritize protecting the ACA. But the ACA is being threatened again, this time through the courts.  Justice Ginsburg’s death puts it even more at risk. The ACA case being heard by the Supreme Court after the election threatens to overturn some or all of the law, a prospect that is even more likely without her presence. This will hurt women, as my colleague Deb Gordon explained in this recent piece.  Justice Ginsburg MUST be replaced with someone who will protect the ACA, as well as a woman’s right to choose whether or not she has a child. 


Losing Ruth Bader Ginsburg at this critical moment threatens so many of the issues she fought for.  In this fall’s election, we have to fight for her legacy, and our own lives.  Without her on the Supreme Court, we run the risk of not only losing our reproductive rights, but also the Affordable Care Act’s protections.  We cannot let women be set back after decades of progress. I can feel the power of the chants from the Women’s Marches that still echo in my head:  “Healthcare is a human right!” and  “My body, my choice!”  It will take collective action to realize that power.

We must honor Justice Ginsburg’s legacy by fighting for every piece of it.  She deserves no less.

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