Student Activist Makes Voice Heard on the Hill

What do you do when your elected representatives refuse to listen to you? When news of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court broke in early July 2018, activists on social media encouraged voters to call their senators and oppose his confirmation. But for Angela Maske (NHS’19), a Kentucky native, this wasn’t an option.

“I have had some interactions with my senators’ offices—[that would be] Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul—I have lobbied in their offices before for various issues, I met with staffers,” Maske explained. “They’re always super nice to me, very pleasant, very friendly, but [they] never have committed to following through on any of the topics that I care about.”

President of H*yas for Choice and a Global Health major in the School of Nursing and Health Studies, Maske has advocated for reproductive healthcare access on and off campus since first arriving at Georgetown. Aware of McConnell and Paul’s hostility toward reproductive rights, Maske took the fight where she felt it could make the most impact—to Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

“The week after Kavanaugh’s nomination was announced, I started going to visit their offices on Capitol Hill. I would go before I went to my internship,” she said. “I would just walk into their offices, introduce myself, and say, ‘I’m not a constituent, but I’m from Kentucky, and my senators aren’t standing up for my rights, so here are the reasons why Senator Collins or Senator Murkowski should not vote to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.’”

For Maske, the choice to vocally oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination was not a spur of the moment decision but rather an organic extension of the work she’s done at Georgetown—expanding access to condoms and, more recently, to emergency contraception.

“One of Kavanaugh’s previous decisions was on a case with a religious employer, who was trying to deny birth control coverage to their employees,” Maske said, referring to Kavanaugh’s dissent in the 2015 Priests for Life v. Burwell case. That decision upheld the Affordable Care Act mandate that employers provide birth control coverage to employees. “There are really a lot of parallels between the work that I do on campus, the vision I have for what a better Georgetown can look like, and why I was doing this work on Kavanaugh.”

Having faced many challenges in trying to convince the Georgetown administration, whose stance is shaped by the university’s affiliation with the Catholic Church, to expand contraceptive access, Maske learned to devise creative solutions to pressing problems. That creativity carried over to her political activity. “With the Kavanaugh nomination, I was not going the traditional route toward making my voice heard because I knew that my senators were not going to uplift my voice in this process.”

Maske’s advocacy has also provided her with an unexpected platform to raise awareness of problems plaguing her home state of Kentucky. With only one remaining abortion clinic in Louisville, residents seeking an abortion face a mandatory 24-hour waiting period—a restriction that can mean over four hours of travel in each direction and overnight hotel expenses.

“Being able to uplift and share [the] issues that face my community back home was important for me because, especially at a place like Georgetown, we don’t hear a lot about folks from across the country, who maybe aren’t from Massachusetts, New Jersey, or California, and who do face these issues and end up coming here,” Maske said.

After weeks spent visiting senators’ offices, Maske also participated in a line-the-halls action in support of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford on September 27, the day of Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Once the hearing started, everyone was crowded in the Hart [Senate Office Building] atrium, and it was actually very emotional because many people were watching the hearing on their phones and playing it out loud, so you could hear it echoing through the atrium, all of Dr. Ford’s testimony,” Maske described the scene. “I remember there was one person there who had notches on her arm, it was four different notches with the dates that she was assaulted. It was just a very emotionally intense space to be in, but it was also very powerful. I think it also speaks to the fact that the people who are coming out to express support and to really fight to ensure that the voices of survivors are heard are survivors themselves.”

As Kavanaugh is expected to be confirmed, Maske plans to continue her reproductive rights advocacy at the local and national levels. She wants to ensure that Georgetown students have access to information that will enable them to make healthy decisions about their bodies. Moreover, she hopes to create a campus that affirms all gender identities and sexualities and is safe for the people of color, trans, and queer people.

“My goal isn’t so much to change people’s minds about reproductive justice, but to make them realize that if you want to deny people access to reproductive healthcare…[that means] you believe that they are less deserving of living up to their full potential as human beings than you are.”