On Friday evening, just after the news of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death hit headlines, reproductive rights activists were already on Zoom calls and group chats across the country, springing into action.
"It was an all-hands-on-deck response within minutes of the news breaking,” a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Votes, Planned Parenthood’s super PAC, told BuzzFeed News Monday. “We took time to — and continue to — pay our respects to her legacy, but now we need to turn and fight any attempts by the Senate to fill the seat before the inauguration."
Ginsburg was a champion of reproductive and abortion rights during her time on the court, repeatedly ruling in support of expanding access to abortion and contraception and voicing opposition to efforts to curb that right.
Throughout President Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency, he has vowed to appoint anti-abortion rights justices to the Supreme Court. When he filled two seats, creating a 5–4 conservative majority, many began to see Ginsburg as the last hope for the survival of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
Even before Ginsburg's death, it was already crunch time for staff at Planned Parenthood Votes, UltraViolet, and Supermajority — three political organizations that fight for abortion rights and access through electoral politics; one of the most significant elections in the history of their movement is just six weeks away, on Nov. 3.
But Ginsburg’s death added fuel to the fire.
In the days following the news, Planned Parenthood Votes organized a new six-figure ad campaign, which launched Tuesday afternoon in Arizona, Florida, and Michigan, featuring a montage of black-and-white pictures of Ginsburg looking regal, contrasted against videos of Trump and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh screaming angrily, telling viewers that Trump “wants to replace [Ginsburg] against her dying wish.” Supermajority started organizing a celebrity-studded “massive woman-to-woman voter mobilization event” focused on Ginsburg's legacy, featuring Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, writer Gloria Steinem, and actors Jane Fonda and Eva Longoria, among many others.
Planned Parenthood Votes and UltraViolet wrote new scripts for their phone and text banking (volunteer drives in which supporters call and text friends and strangers, encouraging them to vote or get involved in organizing efforts) centered around Ginsburg and the vacancy she left on the Supreme Court. Their volunteers are now prepared to tell their millions of supporters to “hold their senators’ feet to the fire” to make sure senators who are vulnerable this election know that their decision on whether to vote for a Supreme Court nominee before Nov. 3 could cost them their jobs.
Following Ginsburg’s death, Planned Parenthood saw a massive spike in donations and volunteers to help get out the vote across the country. “Planned Parenthood” and “Roe v Wade” began trending on Twitter, as people turned to social media to encourage others to do the same. The website for Planned Parenthood’s political arm saw a 500% increase in week-to-week traffic from the previous Saturday, the organization’s spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. Supermajority and Planned Parenthood Vote’s online supporter briefing in reaction to the news about Ginsburg saw 60,000 people tune in, a shockingly high turnout for a Sunday night.
“We've seen an incredible increase in enthusiasm from our organizers and through our outreach to voters,” the Planned Parenthood Votes spokesperson said. “We're seeing a dramatic increase in new volunteers, an increase in response rates to our phone banks, and just an overwhelming sense of people wanting to get involved."
Carina Coestad, a 20-year-old college student at Syracuse University in New York who regularly donates to Planned Parenthood, told BuzzFeed News Saturday that she started hearing from friends “immediately,” asking her how they could help. “I posted about RBG to my Instagram story, and I got like 20 messages immediately, some from friends who have never done anything political before, asking to phone bank and volunteer,” she said.
Coestad has been volunteering for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, and over the weekend participated in a phone bank in which she texted hundreds of people to discuss her support of Planned Parenthood and Biden’s campaign in the wake of Ginsburg’s death.
In Maine, where Republican Sen. Susan Collins faces a serious challenge from Democrat Sara Gideon this year, Planned Parenthood Votes has also seen a large increase in interest. Normally Maine’s volunteers are only signed up for one or two shifts a week for phone banking and other efforts, the spokesperson said. This week, every hour is booked.
“It makes sense. It’s natural that people would immediately be concerned about their access to basic health care like IUDs and birth control, and that would motivate them to act,” Sonja Spoo, director of reproductive rights campaigns at UltraViolet, told BuzzFeed News Sunday. “This is the fever dream of the anti-choice movement, to have the pick at the Supreme Court that Trump promised to deliver for them.”
Efforts to block a vote on a Supreme Court nomination before the election, however, are seeming more and more futile. In order to prevent a majority of the Senate voting on the nominee, four Republicans would have to join the Democrats in dissent. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine said that they would vote against the nomination, and advocates were hoping that Sen. Mitt Romney, who voted to impeach Trump on one count earlier this year, would join them.
On Tuesday morning, however, Romney released a statement saying he would support voting to replace Ginsburg on the court. Nearly every other Republican senator, including those who face difficult reelections this year, have agreed. Trump said Tuesday that he would announce his nominee as soon as Saturday.
Even if Planned Parenthood and the Democrats lose the battle to block the nomination, the spokesperson said, the fight won’t be over. The group signed up nearly a thousand people nationally to phone bank on Thursday, triple the amount of volunteers they normally recruit. And their focus, beyond Ginsburg’s seat, is making sure that Democrats win the Senate and the White House in November.
"Whatever happens with this appointment, it's critical that we flip the Senate majority and elect a president that isn't going to continue to appoint justices at the appellate level and district courts with justices who are against abortion access,” the spokesperson said. “No matter what happens, the fight remains."