The American Civil Liberties Union had a curious way of honoring the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week by editing out her words - removing offensive references to “woman” and “she.” I expect that Ginsburg herself would have had little patience with such woke revisionism.
The ACLU wanted to use, not just memorialize, the one year anniversary of Ginsburg’s death to highlight the fight over abortions in states like Texas. The quote, from Ginsburg is taken from her confirmation hearing in 1993:
“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 Government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”
The ACLU however did not want to use the term “women” to refer to those who have abortions or the pronoun “she.” So that quote was reproduced in this form with “women” substituted with “person’s” and “she” substituted with “they”:
“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.”
Many (including Ginsburg) could object to the use of the plural “they” for a reference to the singular “her” life as not just changing the words but the meaning.
The ACLU also cut “It is a decision she must make for herself.”
That was arguably the crux of the quote but it was axed entirely.
The removal of “woman” is in response to objections that biological females who identify as male are “men” and therefore “men” can get pregnant and have abortions. The result is a rewriting of Ginsburg’s celebrated writings:
With Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, we lost a champion for abortion and gender equality. And on the anniversary of her death, the fight to protect abortion access is more urgent than ever. pic.twitter.com/vIKadIHouN— ACLU (@ACLU) September 18, 2021
This prompted a whirlwind of backlash on social media, summarized succinctly as follows:
RBG is one of the most admired WOMEN in the history of American politics... and you erased the word "woman" from her own quote...— Tim Young (@TimRunsHisMouth) September 23, 2021
You guys are literally trash.
What is particularly curious is that the ACLU can still remove such references to “woman” or “she” in its own writings without editing historical quotations or writings. 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. You can then editorialize or contextualize with any objections or warnings.
For my part, I am a strong advocate for leaving historical documents unchanged and quoting them in their original forms. I also recently criticized the decision of the National Archives to add “trigger warnings” to historical documents as “bubbling wrapping history.” I believe that people can understand such documents in their historical text, even a quote that was first spoken as recently as 1993.
It is of course ironic that this iconic liberal jurist is now the subject of corrective editing. The ACLU might be wise to consider this other Ginsburg quote:
“Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”