Women's groups outraged by pressure to rush Ford's testimony

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, with Judge Brett Kavanaugh (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Andrew Harnik/AP, AP, Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP, Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images, Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, with Judge Brett Kavanaugh (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Andrew Harnik/AP, AP, Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP, Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images, Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

The words flew in the sky over Palo Alto, Calif., on Thursday afternoon: “Thank you Christine. We have your back.”

The aerial advertisement that trailed a small plane was commissioned by UltraViolet, a national women’s advocacy organization that supports sexual assault survivors, and referred to Christine Blasey Ford, a Palo Alto University professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault when the two were teenagers in Maryland.

“Women in the U.S. are feeling really grateful to her and understand what she’s doing is an incredible sacrifice and she deserves to be thanked,” UltraViolet founder Shauna Johnson told Yahoo News about Ford. “We hope that she sees [the banner]. We hope her family and her friends see it and everybody in her community who is going to be affected by this or has already been in some way.”

Ford stepped into the national spotlight Sunday when she revealed herself to be the author of a letter sent to Sen. Dianne Feinstein in July accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Ford initially requested confidentiality, a decision that Feinstein said she honored until a story about the letter was published in the Intercept. With her identity compromised, Ford came forward with her account of the incident, which Kavanaugh categorically denied.

On Monday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, invited Ford and Kavanaugh to testify before the committee on Monday, Sept. 24, but Ford’s appearance has yet to be confirmed. Ford’s lawyer had demanded an FBI investigation prior to her client’s participation, and her attorney also sent a letter to Grassley laying out conditions Ford requires if she is to testify next Thursday, not Monday. But Grassley has refused delaying the confirmation process any further and set a deadline of Friday, Sept. 21, for Ford to state whether she intends to testify in Monday’s hearing.

In the meantime, women’s advocacy groups like UltraViolet are seeking to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Their key targets are two pro-choice female GOP senators, Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. Neither senator, who are considered potential swing votes, has said how she will vote on Kavanaugh.

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford (Photos: Alex Brandon/AP, Facebook)
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford (Photos: Alex Brandon/AP, Facebook)

“One would expect a senator in this position, any senator in this position, to take the trouble to understand the dynamic around [sexual assault] survivorship,” Marge Baker, executive vice president of People for the American Way, told Yahoo News. “You’d expect any senator to do that, but frankly I think a woman senator should be even more sensitive to that.”

In Alaska, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood have reportedly spent over $1 million to pressure Murkowski to vote against confirming Kavanaugh.

In Maine, pressure from pro-choice constituents is also mounting on Collins, who, like Murkowski, voted with her Republican colleagues to confirm Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s last conservative Supreme Court nominee.

Beyond the 3,000 coat hangers sent to Collins’s Maine office and aggressive ad campaigns by NARAL and Planned Parenthood pressuring the senator, activists have launched a “Be a Hero” campaign that has raised over $1.4 million for her 2020 Democratic opponent if Collins votes to confirm Kavanaugh.

“All of this attempt to pressure me is not going to be a factor in my decision,” Collins said of the tactics to sway her vote in a statement.

On the question of whether to delay Ford’s testimony, Collins has been equally firm.

That response strikes some as insensitive.

“As a woman, [Collins] is totally not understanding survivorship,” said Baker. “She’s not understanding what it’s like to be a survivor in these situations and what you have to do to make sure that person is given a fair hearing.”

Late Thursday, Ford’s attorney said it was “not possible” for her client to attend Monday’s hearing, but that she would be available to tell her story later in the week. For many Republicans, that won’t be good enough, a stance that many women’s groups believe is indicative of a larger societal problem.

“It’s important for women to stand up for other women,” said Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization for Women. “We have centuries of women kowtowing to men and what men think, and it’s time for women to have the courage to say, ‘I’m a woman and I’m going to stand with this woman.’”

Neither Collins nor Murkowski responded to a request for comment for this story.

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