Will this ruling create popular fury and the downfall of the religious right? The birth of a new Gilead? Or a muddle in between?
“Ignore your rights, and they’ll go away,” the bumper sticker goes.
I think about that a lot these days.
I was at the deli yesterday ordering lunch. There were three girls on line ahead of me—young teenagers, maybe 13 or 14, in cutoff jeans and colorful T-shirts. They were chatting, laughing, playing on their phones. I wonder if they knew, if they cared. I wonder if they thought it was no concern of theirs, with the it’ll-never-happen-to-me bravado of the young. Or maybe they were worried and upset, but were choosing not to make a show of it in public. Maybe they were just living in the moment and choosing to be happy without dwelling on the future.
I wonder what kind of world we’re creating for them to grow up into.
Normally, I don’t write about a story unless I feel that I have an interesting take or a unique angle on it. I don’t have one here. I doubt I have anything to say about the Roe decision that hasn’t been said more eloquently or forcefully by others. However, I can’t let an outrage this enormous pass without comment, so here are some scattered thoughts.
Start with the obvious: Women are going to die. It’s only a matter of time before we have an American Savita Halappanavar, who was murdered by anti-choice ideology when her doctors refused to treat her septic miscarriage as long as there was a fetal heartbeat. There will be many such cases.
Religion kills women. That is all.
Everyone who said in 2016 that Donald Trump’s presidency wouldn’t be that bad, that the extreme rhetoric was for show and he’d become a moderate populist once in office, that Democrats were engaged in needless hysteria—those people need to make a heartfelt apology and then withdraw from political punditry for a long period of self-reflection.
I’m thinking particularly of well-meaning white guys like Tim Urban, of pop-philosophy site Wait But Why. He’s now outraged at the prospect of “forcing a 17-year-old knocked up by her ex-boyfriend to have a child“… but back in November 2016, he wrote a post titled “It’s Going to Be Okay“.
In it, he reassured non-white, non-male people: “This country had your back yesterday and it’ll have your back tomorrow.” He also said: “Trump isn’t especially socially conservative, so his appointees may not be either.”
Children are going to die too. I don’t mean “children” in the anti-choicer’s sense, the grotesque equation of a living, breathing, thinking human being with a microscopic clump of cells.
No, I mean actual children and babies. They’ll be mistreated, abused, neglected, and murdered by unfit parents who didn’t want them, who weren’t prepared to care for them, but who were given no choice about bearing them. Here’s a graphic testimony from a Child Protective Services worker describing how this will play out.
I have no right to give advice to women, but I’m going to anyway: if you’re pro-choice and your boyfriend isn’t, dump him. If you’re married, divorce him. Don’t stay in a relationship with someone who doesn’t recognize your sovereignty over your own body. For your own safety, if for no other reason.
Neutering or packing the courts should now be every progressive’s #1 priority. Clarence Thomas explicitly invited right-wingers to bring more cases so they can continue their slash-and-burn march through the 20th century.
They want to repeal same-sex marriage rights. They want to make it possible to outlaw contraception. Thomas even wants to overturn the ruling striking down sodomy laws, which would mean states could criminalize any kind of sex that isn’t heterosexual missionary-position intercourse.
The conservative justices are out-of-control fanatics. If they’re not stopped, they’ll reset the clock to the 1800s.
I don’t think there’s ever been a culture-war issue that pitted the Republican party so directly against the business community. Big corporations—especially those that require an educated workforce, i.e., profitable tech and finance companies—must know that abortion bans will be a severe disincentive for anyone to move there, which means they’ll have a much more difficult time competing for talent. (Worried employers are already offering to cover out-of-state travel costs for their employees, but it’s a no-brainer that regressive states will try to ban that too.)
On the other side of the coin, employers in blue states will have a built-in advantage: the ability to live and work somewhere your basic human rights are respected. Red states are going to suffer brain drain.
As bad as this is, it seems unlikely that we’re going to return to the coathanger era. Drugs that induce abortion can be ordered through the mail, or smuggled across state lines. They’re safe, effective, and easy to take at home. Also, IUDs and other long-lasting contraceptives were already driving abortion rates down to a historical low.
What’s going to happen now? I can imagine three ways this might play out.
First, the optimistic path. We might call this the “dog that caught the car” scenario.
Start with this fact: Abortion rights are popular. A 2-to-1 majority of Americans support Roe. Almost one-quarter of women have had an abortion, which means an even larger group must personally know someone who has.
By becoming the party of abortion bans, Republicans have saddled themselves with a massively unpopular position. White people, especially suburban white women who voted GOP because they like tax cuts, and who assumed anti-choice rhetoric was just culture-war confetti to rile up the voters in the cheap seats, have just had an unwelcome wakeup call.
In this rosy scenario, women become radicalized and turn out en masse for pro-choice candidates. Democrats hold Congress, abolish the filibuster, codify Roe into federal law, and appoint a slew of progressive Supreme Court justices. The decline of religion accelerates dramatically, and right-wing Christianity is permanently discredited as a political force.
Second: the pessimistic path. Call it Romania—which actually did this under Nicolae Ceaucescu.
Red-state legislatures, drunk on power and eager to see how far they can go, will create a regime of mandatory regular pregnancy testing for all women. Secret police will infiltrate hospitals, and women who suffer miscarriages will be shackled to their beds for trial. They’ll set up checkpoints and make it illegal for pregnant people to leave the state in case they get an abortion elsewhere, as if Utah forbade its own citizens from traveling to Nevada to gamble or drink.
(Blatantly unconstitutional, you say? An outrageous trespass of human rights and a flouting of jurisdictional boundaries, you say? A sure way to provoke a constitutional crisis, if a blue state refuses to extradite a woman for exercising a right that’s protected there? I agree with all of that—but bills to do exactly this have already been attempted, and who knows what the courts are prepared to bless anymore?)
I don’t think this scenario is the likeliest, but I’m not going to say that people who are worried about it are being irrational. I realize many Black women dislike comparing abortion to the Underground Railroad and the Fugitive Slave Act, but in this case, it would be inescapable.
Then there’s the third path, in between the other two. Call this one the “war on drugs” scenario.
In this scenario, abortion is outlawed, but widely available through drugs and underground clinics. The law will be enforced selectively against poor women and people of color, in showy raids trumpeted by “law and order” politicians. Meanwhile, middle-class white women will be able to terminate a pregnancy without much trouble, and rich people with private jets and concierge doctors won’t have any trouble at all. It’s the brand of hypocrisy that America excels at.