The New York Times reported today that the Supreme Court has privately decided to strike down Roe v Wade. Politico reported that “Every Republican appointee on the court other than Chief Justice John Roberts has voted to overturn” it and while it’s expected that the three Democratic appointees will dissent, to believe that this won’t actually lead to the end of Roe v Wade is wildly optimistic.
I say this because for those who have been following the aftermath of SB 8, the Texas Law that not only made it illegal to get an abortion after 6 weeks but also made provision to penalize anyone who aided or abetted an abortion, today’s development does not come as a surprise. Senate Bill 8 is by far the most restrictive law on abortion passed to date: it bans abortion after only the sixth week, a period when most women may not even know that they’re pregnant, and it makes no exception even in the case of incest or rape.
Even more ominous is that after Texas made it a law other conservatives states like Alabama, Idaho, Ohio, Oklahoma and Missouri, followed suit with “copycat laws”. It has been estimated that without Roe v Wade, 26 states will ban abortion altogether.
Some states are poised to strike as soon as the Supreme Court makes a decision against Roe v Wade. For example, Wyoming enacted a “trigger” ban in March 2022 that moved the state from the category of likely to ban abortion to certain to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Yet I would argue that the ground for an overturn of Roe v Wade had been thoroughly prepared and seeded for a long time now.
The steps that have brought us here have been many, chief among them the Trump presidency and the escalating aggressive conservatism that seeks to overturn gains made by the decades of slow—though real—legislation liberalizing the areas of sex education, sexual identity, LGBTQ+ rights, and of course, abortion. Yet blaming it on the Trump presidency is simplistic because he would not have been elected had the ideological climate not been pointing in that direction. This may be a classic chicken and egg conundrum, but one that accurately reflects the changing mood and ideology of the nation.
In the last few years, the hot-button issues of sex education and abortion have been increasingly prominent in the news. In California, elementary school teachers were issued new guidelines on how to discuss sex education in the classroom. These guidelines, comprehensively known as the California Health Framework, include discussing gender identity and gender-neutral and LGBTQ-inclusive language, with children as young as kindergarten. In addition, the teachers were encouraged to discuss masturbation and the promotion of safe sex practices for both straight and LGBTQ students. As we have seen recently, anger against laws that liberalize discussion of gay rights and sexual identity has turned to fury and has now been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” controversy by liberals, as conservatives try to get sex education out of the elementary grade classrooms.
The other subject concerns abortion, an issue so powerful that it leads some misguided people to commit murder over it—most often at abortion clinics. Already in 2020
Alabama’s governor Kay Ivey signed into law a measure to ban most abortions in the state. Alabama was quickly followed by Missouri and Georgia, which then were followed by Texas’ SB8 which took effect on September 1, 2021. It is worthy of note that Alabama architects of the anti-abortion legislation frankly admitted that its purpose was to persuade the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The polarization on these subjects reveals the gravity and depth of the ideological divide tearing this country apart—a division whose aim, simply put, is the conservatives’ attempt to turn back the clock to former times in American history.
People from both ends of the political spectrum are equally outraged and protesting.
Senate Bill 8, the most damaging precursor to an eventual overthrow of Roe v Wade became law not because the Supreme Court voted on it, but because they passively chose not to prevent it from becoming a law, hiding behind the “shadow docket”. Some would say they took the coward’s way out. Indeed, I wonder if this would have happened had Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the lion of the Supreme Court, still been alive today.
Abortion is and always has been, a bitterly contested subject involving both legality and morality: laws and religion; personal health and the collective welfare; individual conscience and collective expectations. I’m not going to dwell on the women’s rights issue for it are self-evident: who has the right over a woman’s body? She herself or the government?
Abortion is literally, a question of life and death, not only for the fetus, but sometimes for the mother as well. If an abortion cannot be obtained legally and therefore safely, a woman may have to resort to back-alley quacks or other unsafe methods to terminate an unwanted pregnancy—as was the case before abortion was legalized.
Laws are made in a society in order to ensure the collective safety and to prevent aggression of one against another. It is part of the social contract by which the individual gives up a measure of freedom in order to enjoy the advantages of communal life: companionship, shelter, safety against food deprivation and violence.
But abortion is one of the very complex issues that lead us to ask some very tough questions even about the very origin of life: When does life actually begin? When does the fetus become an individual with rights? To outlaw abortion from the time that a fetal heartbeat is detected–at about six weeks’ gestation–as the most restrictive anti-abortion laws now enforce–posits the most conservative of all definitions on these philosophical and moral questions. To follow this up with an overturn of Roe v Wade would erase a large chunk of the social progress we have made in human rights and it should lead us to envision more backsliding. If Roe v Wade is overturned, can LGBTQ+ laws be far behind? And what about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origins? If Roe v Wade is overturned, we should fear for the founding principles of this nation.
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