The End of Roe?
And so it went...
Today was not the ultimate judgement day; that will come with a formal decision. And we have to be prepared for a surprise. But if events transpire as most legal experts suspect they will, what happened in Washington on December 1, 2021, will be marked in American history.
It will be seen as a fractious transition, from “befores” to “afters.” A day that plunges us further into the unknown, amplified by our hardening divisions. A day that will spur action and revolt in ways we cannot imagine. A day of judgement by justices who themselves will be judged by a nation and by history.
The issue of abortion is one on which fair minded people, honest to their own beliefs and moral codes, can disagree. But today was not about personal choice. It was about the law of the land that will make no exceptions other than those carved out by the states. And if the history of a time before legal abortions is any guide, and there is no reason to suspect otherwise, today will beget many personal tragedies, ruined lives, hardship, and despair.
What transpired in the marbled halls of the Supreme Court was not genteel, even if it was wrapped in the ceremony and vocabulary of polite legal discourse. It was a traumatic reckoning. First and foremost for the rights of women to have control of their bodies and their lives. And secondly for a nation of laws, where precedent is supposed to matter. Instead, we saw a fixed legal right, enshrined in jurisprudence for half a century, likely shredded by a handful of unelected and unaccountable arbiters of what our nation of more than 300 million souls can and cannot do.
Was it a surprise? Not really to anyone who has followed the Court. But somehow the shock of what this will mean was not tempered by its inevitability.
For decades Republicans have railed against abortion to fan the ire and passions of their most reliable voters. They have played footsie with gutting Roe, with more lip service than action. It took the shameless cynicism of Mitch McConnell and the gleeful transactionality of President Trump to secure a majority on the Court that would boldly go so far.
There are many subplots to this drama. We can talk about how a majority of the justices on the reactionary side of the ledger were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote, and what that means for the health of our democracy. We can talk about how many of the justices were less than truthful, or outright lied, in their confirmation hearings when they acted like they would judge an abortion case on precedent and the law instead of having their minds made up. We can talk about the politics of the court and whether Democratic voters slept-walked on the issue for too long. But if this were a Hollywood movie, all that would be in the preamble. A new story begins now.
We are entering uncharted waters. Polls suggest abortion rights are broadly popular. And history has shown, time and time again, that taking away a right that people considered a given produces a far more explosive backlash than blocking a new right from going into effect. Hence it was harder to get rid of Obamacare than it was to try to block its implementation in the first place.
Many women of all ages in America have come to take safe, legal abortions as a given. Although we must note that many women also are vocal opponents of legal abortions. What happens now? What happens when the inevitable stories emerge of victims of rape and incest being forced to carry a pregnancy to term? How many will die from illegal abortion attempts? As someone who is old enough to clearly remember the world before Roe, I don't think America, or the justices on the Court, or the political establishment, knows what is going to come.
We will see abortion effectively outlawed in many states, and not only deep red ones. Gerrymandered state governments in purple states will jump in as well. Will this provoke a response, in the streets or at the ballot box? Will there be pressure on businesses who want to recruit workers in states where abortion is illegal? Or will America adjust to this new reality in ways that do not change the political stakes?
The truth is I don’t know what the answers to these questions will be. I just know that for decades Republicans have used the Court as a rallying cry of liberal overreach. Now the narrative has flipped. What will it mean? Will it mean anything?
Ultimately, while it is important to consider the politics, my mind tonight is with those who will likely suffer, now and into the future. We now likely have a situation where the government will come between women, their doctors, and their body. Those who consider terminating pregnancies often face the most difficult decisions of their lives. They are often on the most vulnerable fringes of society, contending with violence, trauma, and economic insecurity. Others face grave medical problems. Others know they would be unable to provide a good life for their baby. Others know what a baby will mean for their own lives. Ultimately the reasons shouldn’t matter. There is no moral relativism. I believe, no matter one’s personal beliefs about abortion, this is a right that women should have.
If Roe is gutted and not replaced by new laws, a wave of desperation will engulf the nation. Countless women will feel the loneliness of fear, the disorientation of anxiety, and the despair that comes with pain and loss. They will cry tears and shake with anger. They will weigh the risks of traveling to states where abortion is legal, of finding other ways to end their pregnancies. They will be forced to carry life to term, knowing that the same political forces who insisted they do so will do little to help care for that life once it is born.
Tonight I understand the anger. I understand the fear. My primary emotion is one of sadness. We are stumbling towards a future that is unmoored from our past. Many of the justices today suggested a gleeful, breezy contempt for what was painfully built by those who came before them. They are willing to unleash who knows what. Perhaps, when this chapter is fully written, they will have proven to be the ones least prepared to anticipate what comes next.