On June 24, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that has been the focus of America’s abortion debate since 1973. In that decision, the 1973 court ruled that the Constitution protected a woman’s right to an abortion, with some limits. By overturning that decision, today’s court leaves abortion laws up to individual states, allowing them to ban abortion under any circumstances and at any point during pregnancy. In doing so, the Supreme Court has placed millions of women across the country at grave risk.
How Democrats Dropped the Ball on Choice
Though the decision was leaked almost two months ago, it was met with outrage from pro-choice Americans when formally announced. Much of the rage has been directed at Democrats – and for good reason. Despite often placing abortion protection at the center of campaign messaging, Democrats in power have done very little to safeguard Roe.
As a candidate in 2007, Barack Obama promised that the first thing he’d do as president would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act. After he took office, the bill stalled, and President Obama declared a woman’s right to choose “not [his] highest legislative priority.” Candidate Biden made a similar promise and, like Obama, never followed through.
Other Democratic leaders have also wavered in their commitment to choice. In 2016, Hillary Clinton chose an anti-choice Democratic Senator, Tim Kaine, as her running mate. Former DNC Chair Tom Perez, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have all backed anti-choice candidates and sought to downplay the issue in the party’s overall messaging.
Among Democrats, President Biden is especially bad on abortion. He’s on record as opposing a woman’s right to choose as far back as 1974, saying, rather incredibly, “I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.” Biden even played a key role in getting Clarence Thomas, one of the conservatives who overturned Roe, appointed to the Supreme Court. Throughout his career, Biden backed multiple abortion bans in the Senate. Even today, he’s planning to appoint an anti-choice judge to Kentucky’s Supreme Court.
In short, abortion rights have never been secure, even with Democrats controlling two-thirds of the federal government. And the Democratic response following the overturn of Roe has been bleak. When the Supreme Court’s decision first leaked, prompting protests at the home of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, rather than preserve abortion protections, Democrats moved overwhelmingly to pass a bill granting additional security to Supreme Court justices and their families. The most action they’ve taken so far has been sending out fundraising emails.
Some, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have aggressively used their platforms to push for solutions. Proposed solutions include impeaching Supreme Court justices who lied under oath about protecting Roe, opening abortion clinics on federal land in red states, and ending the filibuster to pass abortion protections through Congress. In a surprise reversal, Biden recently voiced support for ending the filibuster to codify Roe, but no formal action has been taken and he’s been dismissive of other strategies.
Unmasking the system
Pro-choice protests have popped up all over the country. Many of these have been met with a violent police presence. On Twitter, users share new videos daily of police arguing with, shoving, arresting, and assaulting protesters. Capitol Police arrested 181 protesters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. In one of the more high-profile incidents, LAPD officers shoved sitcom actress Jodie Sweetin to the ground.
At a rally in Texas, protesters chanted, “Voting blue is not enough, Democrats we call your bluff.” Their rage is justified. The decision was an abysmal rollback of a fundamental right. By taking America so far backwards, the Supreme Court highlights how illegitimate our system is.
Some legal experts praise the overturn of Roe, arguing that abortion law belongs in the hands of individual states. Perhaps in some constitutional readings, this is so. But the practical effect of repealing Roe is that the federal government has blessed states to impose punitive and regressive abortion laws. These laws will inevitably lead to suffering, unsafe medical procedures, death, and parentless children. If it’s constitutional for the state to come between a woman and her physician to outlaw certain kinds of medical care, then we have very big problems.
Why abortion protection is so critical
With the fall of Roe, any national protection of a woman’s right to choose is gone. Some of the most restrictive abortion laws in states like Mississippi, Ohio, and Arkansas can now go unchallenged. In Texas and Idaho, the repeal of Roe triggered laws banning almost all abortions. The overturn has emboldened governors and legislators in red states like Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis – widely seen as a 2024 Republican presidential candidate – vowed to defend the state’s most restrictive abortion laws to date.
This is all under the pretext of protecting the unborn. Unfortunately, the abortion debate has been hijacked by hysterical fundamentalists who view all abortion as the equivalent of murder. This has led to extreme measures from the pro-life movement, up to and including, ironically, murdering doctors and calling for women who have abortions to be hanged.
The question of when life begins is more spiritual or philosophical than legal or scientific. The sperm that fertilizes the egg is made of living cells, as is the egg itself. When the two join, they can potentially undergo a process that may or may not lead to a human baby birth, but arguing that a zygote is a human being with full rights is problematic even for pro-lifers. Prominent pro-life activist Matt Walsh, for instance, recently embarrassed himself on Twitter by declaring an elephant fetus was a person.
For these reasons, it is hysterical, dangerous, and fundamentally false to refer to abortion as murder. Abortion is a medical procedure for terminating a pregnancy. Access to safe abortions is critically important – for would-be mothers who suffer life-threatening medical complications, for victims who don’t want to be forced to birth their attacker’s baby, and, yes, for anyone who made a mistake and doesn’t want to bring a new life into the world.
Even outside of extreme cases such as rape, incest, or life-threatening medical emergencies, abortion is a crucial part of smart family planning. And even if eliminating abortions was a worthy cause – which it isn’t – outlawing abortions isn’t going to eliminate them. Much like the War on Drugs, a War on Abortion will just drive abortions underground, exposing women to dangerous, unsanctioned medical procedures.
Only a grim Dark Age society would force all women to carry every pregnancy to term, particularly while making such pitiful investments in education, healthcare, childcare, nutrition, and foster care. If a woman gets pregnant – even if it’s against her will and she has no support – conservatives want her to live with that burden forever, with no assistance.
What can we do now?
No one should tolerate living under oppressive, abusive systems. When a law is unjust, people must disobey it. Already, a sort of abortion underground railroad has emerged. Activists have shared resources, offered to pay for transportation to abortion-safe states, and shown ways to safely communicate in states that outlaw abortion.
Democrats have options, including making a filibuster exemption to codify Roe into law. Sadly, the party’s dearth of leadership makes it seem unlikely they will use all the options at their disposal. Therefore, it falls on activists to pressure elected officials and put forward progressive challengers to moderate candidates.
The Supreme Court’s decision calls into question the legitimacy of the US government itself. Recent polling shows 61 percent of Americans support abortion rights. For six justices to have the power to override that will shows how off-the-rails things have gone.
But in this, too, there could be a silver lining. By allowing the American people this rotten glimpse under the government’s mask, the Supreme Court may have initiated a sea change. It’s far too early to tell what the consequences will be, but if the only way to fix the problem is a political revolution that completely restructures the government, overturning Roe may be what lights the kindling.