'Woke' censorship: US free speech group sorry for removing ‘women’ from Ginsburg abortion quote

·4-min read
People leave mementos in a makeshift memorial for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in front of the US Supreme Court on September 19, 2020 in Washington, DC - Samuel Corum/Getty Images
People leave mementos in a makeshift memorial for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in front of the US Supreme Court on September 19, 2020 in Washington, DC - Samuel Corum/Getty Images

The American Civil Liberties Union has apologised for altering a quote by Ruth Bader Ginsburg to replace the word “women” with “people”, after the group founded to defend free speech was criticised for “woke” censorship.

On the first anniversary of the Supreme Court Justice’s death, the civil rights group published part of one her best known speeches, but changed the wording to make it gender neutral.

At Ginsburg’s confirmation hearing in 1993 she was asked her position on abortion.

In a quote that would be widely repeated in the following decades, she said: "The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself.

"When the government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a full adult human responsible for her own choices."

But in the version that the ACLU shared on Twitter, it removed any reference to women.

The new quote read: "The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a [person’s] life, to [their] well-being and dignity.

"When the government controls that decision for [people], [they are] being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for [their] own choices."

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said: "Ginsburg herself would have had little patience with such woke revisionism.

"If one accepts this view that the reference to 'woman' is offensive, you can still accept that historical documents should be read in their original form."

The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg - Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg - Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Ginsburg, a liberal and feminist icon - widely known by her initials RBG - was a lawyer for the ACLU and co-founded its Women’s Rights Project in the 1970s. She then became the second woman to serve on the US Supreme Court.

The ACLU was founded in 1920 to defend Americans' constitutional rights including free speech.

For a century the ACLU has been committed to the First Amendment, even defending the free speech rights of the Ku Klux Klan and Nazis, but there has been growing concern in recent years that it has become consumed by left-wing causes and obsessed with launching legal cases against Donald Trump.

Today, it has over 1,7 million members and is America's largest public interest law firm, arguing thousands of cases a year.

Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, apologised for the alteration of pronouns in the Ginsburg quote.

He told the New York Times it was a "mistake among the digital team," adding that the organisation would not do the same again.

But he said it was necessary to "understand a reality that people who seek abortions are not only women. That reality exists.

"In today’s America language sometimes needs to be rethought."

He also maintained that Ginsburg herself would have approved.

In this Aug. 3, 1993, file photo, then-Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg poses in her robe in her office at U.S. District Court in Washington. Earlier, the Senate voted 96-3 to confirm Bader as the 107th justice and the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court - Doug Mills/AP
In this Aug. 3, 1993, file photo, then-Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg poses in her robe in her office at U.S. District Court in Washington. Earlier, the Senate voted 96-3 to confirm Bader as the 107th justice and the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court - Doug Mills/AP

Mr Romero said: "Having spent time with Justice Ginsburg I would like to believe that, if she were alive today, she would encourage us to evolve our language to encompass a broader vision of gender, identity and sexuality."

Matt Gorman, a Republican digital strategist, said it showed that "RBG isn't woke enough" for the ACLU.

Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News host, said: "Who the hell at the ACLU thought they had the licence to edit the late RBG to erase women from her thoughts? This is deeply wrong on every level."

The New York Times described the ACLU's move as "somewhat Orwellian."

Charlotte Clymer, a transgender activist, defended the ACLU. She said: "Trans men and non-binary folks need abortion access too, and language about abortion access should always reflect that."

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