A Disjointed Rant on Roe
Or, how we got here and where we go next
I remember not too long ago when Republicans used to bemoan that even when they held political power, it was the Democrats who had won the culture war.
If that was ever true, it certainly isn’t now.
The generation growing up in the 2010s never exactly felt optimistic about their futures. How could they? It was a decade defined by regular school shootings, increasing income inequality and increasingly-severe warnings about climate change that were met by inaction by our leaders.
In spite of this, the 2010s were also a decade that saw the increased expanding of rights for women and minorities. For many members of Gen-Z, they have only really known a world where same sex marriage was the law of the land and the Constitutionally assured right to abortion was seen as settled law. To some, it seemed, progressives, had already won the culture war — or at least were destined to soon enough. It’s because of this that in 2016 then-Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, whose supporters were disproportionately young, was able to dismiss organisations like the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood as members of the “establishment.” To many teens and twenty-somethings, it seemed as though there was nothing remotely radical about gay rights and bodily autonomy.
In a separate concurring ruling in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Clarence Thomas recommended that the Court reconsider the cases of Griswold, Lawrence and Obergefell — rulings that codified Americans rights to contraceptive access, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage. The other five justices who voted to overturn Roe had the tact not to explicitly say the same at a time where many justifiably view the Court as just another branch of the Republican Party. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t thinking it.
Those in a position to do so, should be willing to offer temporary accommodation — and other meaningful aide — to those travelling to terminate a pregnancy.
Even when Roe was still in tact, and even with Obergefell still in tact, America has objectively become a worse place in recent years for LGBTQ+ people and anyone needing abortions. Though abortion is now completely illegal in over half-a-dozen states for the first time in nearly half-a-century, for many people in these mostly-Southern states, abortion has effectively been illegal for some time. Pre the recent devastating Dobbs ruling, multiple states still had just one abortion clinic, with women forced to travel hundreds of miles to reach the nearest clinic. For many poorer women this was just as prohibitive as any abortion-ban and for those who could afford the cost, it often meant going through an invasive medical procedure, while emotionally distressed, in a place of cold unfamiliarity.
For many reproductive rights advocates, it can feel as though Roe’s existence in recent years has acted as a shield from the reality that in much of America the principles behind the revolutionary ruling of Roe were decimated a long time ago.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that Roe’s full overturn last week wasn’t devastating.
When campaigning to be President, Joe Biden billed 2020 as the most important election of a lifetime — as both sides have done in every election in recent memory. Biden promised that a vote for him was a vote to make the Trump years an unfortunate aberration — a mere anomaly. That was, obviously, a massive overpromise, though it remains unclear if Biden was aware of that at the time, or if he genuinely believed in the power of America to so quickly mend from such a traumatic, turbulent four years.
What is now clear, even to the White House (though they won’t admit it), is that the majority of Senators and Representatives lack the will and courage to enact the sort of measures that would be required to meaningfully recover from the Trump years. Democrats lack the same courage that Republicans have regrettably displayed in the last few decades by unapologetically fighting for their narrow, unpopular, extreme, ideological causes. As a result, codifying Roe into law simply will not happen right now — even with a Democratic-controlled House, Senate and Presidency.
All of this means that there’s a crushing sense of powerlessness and fatigue occurring against the backdrop of Dobbs. Not least because, it feels like we’ve been here so many times before — watching Republicans impose cruel and unpopular policies unfettered, while the outcry of the millions who take to the streets is actively ignored.
Pro-choice activists in blue states must now be prepared to assist in the mailing of abortion pills to recipients in states where their use is illegal.
That abortion is now illegal in over half-a-dozen states, and probably soon will be in over half-of-America, may prove to be a fatal blow to young people’s belief in their ability to enact meaningful change via the ballot box. Certainly there is a deep sense of dismay that comes from watching this unfold under a Democratic trifecta, and the utter failure of conservative Democrats like Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin to meet this moment is certainly enough to create a lifelong cynic.
But while many will now ask if voting is an effective means to advance progress, I think there is another question that is even more fitting to our current reality;
After years of being told “this” election is the most important in your lifetime, what happens when that is actually true — and what happens when people don’t believe so anymore?
For all of Democrats current failures to meet the moment — some of which have been particularly spectacular — it remains true that none of this would have happened if Hillary Clinton had won in 2016. Every justice who voted to overturn Roe was appointed by a Republican and every single justice who voted to maintain it was appointed by a Democrat. There simply wouldn’t be a majority to overturn Roe if there had been a Democrat in the White House between 2016 and 2020.
Both those in blue and red states need to build the community networks required to give sufficient financial assistance, and other resources, to those who need to go out of state for an abortion.
But there wasn’t, and part of living through the most important election of your lifetime means that no other election you witness afterwards will be quite as consequential. The election of Donald Trump was one of America’s great mistakes — something which there seem to be an alarming amount of! A fifty year landmark precedent has now been undone and it could take another fifty to undo the resulting damage. It does a disservice to the American people to be any less stark about what the fallout of Dobbs will be.
That doesn’t, however, mean the current reality is hopeless — though one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. With abortion rights now an almost entirely state-by-state issue, who gets elected in local elections this November really is crucial. Already, there are numerous states where just a few thousand votes have either guaranteed the safety of reproductive rights for the immediate future or have ensured their downfall.
But voting alone can’t solve this — as has just been painfully demonstrated. To protect the rights of those who need and will need abortions post-Roe, we must reject 21st-Century tendencies that indulge performative activism; that which views petition-signing and infographic-sharing as a substitute for meaningful action. And while the dominant attitude of the modern-day is that of individualism, and the dominant reality is that of isolation, it is now more important than ever to strengthen community ties. Pro-choice activists in blue states must now be prepared to assist in the mailing of abortion pills to recipients in states where their use is illegal. Those in a position to do so, should be willing to offer temporary accommodation — and other meaningful aide — to those travelling to terminate a pregnancy (but should do so through official, existing networks not spontaneous offers of generosity via social media). Both those in blue and red states need to build the community networks required to give sufficient financial assistance, and other resources, to those who need to go out of state for an abortion.
Those who are, frankly, evil enough to believe they deserve authority over another’s body cannot be allowed to win this war.