We looked to the Supreme Court to protect our rights; now, it is taking them away

We looked to the Supreme Court to protect our rights; now, it is taking them away

A pro-choice activist holds up a sign during a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in May. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The United States of America is no longer a free country.

Women are no longer full citizens with equal rights.

The theocracy also known as the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that our bodies don’t belong to us. Anyone who is or can become pregnant will be a ward of the state, captive of a misogynist minority.

The opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning a woman’s right to choose, written by Samuel Alito, declares, “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences.”

What “damaging consequences” are those, you might ask? Women exercising their free will?

Along with the court’s other reactionaries — Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Barrett, and Thomas (Roberts voted to uphold Dobbs but not overturn Roe) — Alito clearly believes that a collection of cells that don’t become recognizable as a human until it’s at least three months old should have equal (or greater) standing than the grown, thinking, reasoning woman carrying it.

He makes use of a slew of 350 year-old case law to prove that abortion has always been criminal, quoting the influential 17th century English jurist Sir Matthew Hale who said, “abortion of a quick child who died in the womb [is] a ‘great crime’ and a ‘great misprision.’”

Uppity women

Hale didn’t like women getting uppity, asserting their independence. He once lamented that “young gentlewomen learn to be bold” and “talk loud.”

Alito seems to share Hale’s contempt for women. To Hale, aborting a fetus by whatever means or for whatever reason was murder. If women weren’t killing babies, they often were still in league with Satan. In 1662, he sentenced two young women to death for “bewitching” children. The trial became the model for America’s Salem witch proceedings 30 years later.

Hale also insisted that married women could not be raped by their husbands: Their husbands owned them, body and soul. This jurisprudence hung on in some U.S. states until the early 1990s.

In addition to quoting a misogynist as an authority, Alito borrowed the anti-choice movement’s cynical comparison of abortion to a Jim Crow-era ruling affirming racial segregation, writing, “Like the infamous decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, Roe was also egregiously wrong and on a collision course with the Constitution from the day it was decided.”

Clarence Thomas, evidently trying to out-dinosaur Alito, produced a concurring opinion filled with even more hatred and rage, suggesting the court hasn’t gone far enough in trashing Americans’ rights. He wants the court to junk other “demonstrably erroneous decisions” such as access to contraception and same-sex marriage.

You’d think he’d be concentrating on getting his Jan. 6 insurrection cheerleader wife a good lawyer. On second thought, this is all part of the same project: Drag America back to the 1950s — or maybe the 1850s.

What Alito, Thomas, and the other pre-Vatican II Catholics on the court really detest is unregulated sexuality. All these 21st century Scarlet Women going around sleeping with anyone they choose without having to reap what they sow; these gays demanding to be recognized as equal beings able to marry and raise families; these kids asserting the need to change gender or reject it altogether.

Chaos!

The Christian Nationalists of the Right do not see liberation here, they see chaos. They’ve had a disproportionate influence on the United States since before there was a United States. They were enforcers of Biblical law in colonial New England, architects of pro-slavery ideology, opponents of universal suffrage, homophobes, racists, and now perpetually enraged by anyone demanding to be treated as fully human.

In Friday’s Dobbs opinion, Alito sniffs, “far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have inflamed debate and deepened division.”

That’s disingenuous codswallop. Reproductive rights have not exacerbated America’s divisions. If you didn’t approve of abortion, nobody was going to make you have one. As for any fires that were started, they’re on the Lady Parts Police, always so filled with Jesus’ love that they threaten and harass women, bomb clinics, and shoot doctors who perform abortions.

The Supreme Court majority has bought into right-wing victimhood. Like all those who voted for the Former Guy, they fear their America is slipping away. In 2020, Alito lamented to the Federalist Society, “those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”

Dobbs is hardly a whisper. It’s a trumpet blast.

Appalling crimes

Of the bone-deep damage Donald Trump did to this country, attempting to overthrow the 2020 election and elevating his three mossbacks — the faux cowboy, the Handmaid, and the Frat Brat — to the Supreme Court are his most appalling crimes.

True, Trump did not foist Alito on us (that was George W. Bush) but with Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh, Alito and Thomas secured the majority necessary to impose their cruelty on the rest of us in the name of “democracy.”

Alito wrote. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

Here’s what that means in a few states: In Oklahoma, abortion is banned from the moment of conception; in Louisiana, women cannot get abortion pills from out of state; in Florida, the 15-week ban is being litigated as we speak.

The Supreme Court is no longer the august body most Americans once admired — certainly not since 2000, when the court jumped feet first into a contested presidential election.

There was a time we looked to the court to protect our rights. Now the court is taking our rights. According to a new Gallup Poll, three-quarters of Americans say they have little confidence in the institution.

When women start dying from backstreet abortions or because doctors are afraid to prescribe the drugs to manage a miscarriage or when a new generation of children are born to poor women who can’t take care of them, the court will have even less legitimacy.

Our high court has become a death cult.

Veteran journalist Diane Roberts is a contributor to the Florida Phoenix, which first published this essay.