Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that Americans no longer have a constitutional right to control their own reproduction is a disaster of monumental proportions. Never before in U.S. history has the nation’s high court taken away such a well-established and long exercised fundamental right.
By returning the physical and emotional health and well-being of millions of Americans to the frequently ill-informed whims and prejudices of politicians – most of them old, well-off white men who will be unaffected directly by the ruling – the Court has grievously harmed the cause of human rights and ushered in a new and dark era of repression.
Across the globe, autocrats and religious fundamentalists are smiling at the notion that the world’s greatest democracy has retreated from its longstanding embrace of equality and individual freedom.
As UNC law professor and constitutional scholar Gene Nichol observed in a powerful essay:
The U.S. Supreme Court has informed the nation and the world that the American constitutional ideal of liberty protects guns but not a woman’s right to reproductive freedom. A huge majority of us don’t believe that. These right-wing statists have declared that doesn’t matter. They’ll force it on us anyway. Their preferences prevail. Human rights and democracy be damned.”
Veteran Florida journalist Diane Roberts put it this way:
Along with the court’s other reactionaries — Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Barrett, and Thomas (Roberts voted to uphold Dobbs but not overturn Roe) — [Justice Samuel] 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.”
What comes next, in all likelihood, is a procession of sickening scenarios that one would have thought possible only in a grim, science fiction dystopia:
- Cops and prosecutors arresting, interrogating, and imprisoning health care providers for delivering safe and necessary care that they have provided for decades,
- Rapists making use of state authority to prevent their victims from seeking such care,
- American women on the run via some kind of under the radar network in a desperate search for safe haven jurisdictions, and
- The black-market distribution of abortion pills and, for many desperate souls, the return of self-induced and back-alley abortions.
Those whom this strikes as at all farfetched should talk to Dr. Anu Kumar of the global reproductive health nonprofit Ipas. As Kumar noted in a statement decrying the Court’s ruling:
In Brazil, we’ve seen police raids of abortion clinics, and in Nicaragua we’ve seen doctors stop providing lifesaving treatment because they’re scared of arrest. In places like El Salvador, and in the past in Nepal and Rwanda, women have been put in jail when abortion is criminalized.”
If there is even a hint of a silver lining in the Court’s reprehensible act, it is the new and unmistakable clarity it brings to the national political debate. After Dobbs v. Jackson (a ruling that will long reside in infamy alongside the Dred Scott, Korematsu and Bowers v. Hardwick decisions), Americans who believe in freedom and human rights can no longer – at least for the time being – take it as a given that the Constitution will protect us. For the foreseeable future, the only safeguard for our rights lies in organizing and advocating, as well as electing leaders who will do that job.
This will be no easy task. The forces of reaction and regression may represent only a noisy and deeply confused minority, but they have worked long and hard to reach this moment and have deep pockets. And any group that is so clearly wed to such a crude and cruel amalgam of repression and violence will undoubtedly use every tool at its disposal to cling to power.
Moreover, recent polls, experience with midterm elections and gerrymandering – both the kind state legislatures pursue and the kind that’s baked into the DNA of the U.S. Senate – add a degree of difficulty to the task.
But the simple and powerful fact remains that what’s coming next in our country is not at all what the majority desires.
Americans may have many views on abortion (and contraception and gun violence and same-sex marriage for that matter), but there can be no doubt that the overwhelming majority has no desire to, as is already occurring, turn back the clock 100 years or more.
In short, bad as things are, we voters still retain the tools to resist and dismantle this ghastly Gilead before it is full constructed. Notwithstanding the relentless treachery that the extreme right has employed to bring us to the present moment – from the daily drumbeat of Fox News lies, to the outrageous rigging and perversion of the Supreme Court confirmation process, to the deadly attempted coup d’état of Jan. 6, 2021 – its hegemony cannot hold if the nation’s frequently silent majority wakes up this November and says, “hell no!”