Greetings from Canada, where I’m taking a mental health week, enjoying something of a media fast (which I recommend), and where I’m happily not writing. So this post is a repeat, and a somewhat timely one. First published October 2, 2020 — pre-election, pre-insurrection, pre-big lie — the subject was abortion. While I certainly never saw the new Texas laws coming — let alone the bounty-hunter angle — I’m pleased that the piece seems more relevant now than it was then. Please give it a read, or a re-read, and see if you agree.
Of all the atrocities a six-to-three Supreme Court could inflict on the world, the overturning of Roe v. Wade is, dare I say, among the least of them.
Yes, reproductive rights are as important as ever. Yes, it’s obscene that any Western country should still be wasting time on what should be a long-settled issue. But the implications of a Roe-less future needn’t be as bleak as popular imagination would have it. And it could end up blowing back on Republicans, big time.
I’m not convinced the Republican party even wants Roe overturned. They’ve certainly said they do — and repeated it ad nauseam — but they say a lot of things they don’t mean.
Roe has been the linchpin of the scam they’ve been running on evangelicals for decades. Republicans promise to get rid of Roe, and evangelicals promise to vote for them forever, based on that one issue.
The beauty of it is that they don’t even have to deliver on the promise. As long as Roe stays in place, they get to work the same scam over and over. Why would they want to kill Roe when promising to kill it works so well?
But now that their supposed goal seems in reach, they need to be careful what they wish for. Once Roe is gone, single-issue voters might start looking at other issues — like healthcare, infrastructure, environment, racism, economy, and yes, Covid — all of which Republicans are eager to not talk about.
And let’s be clear. The Republican party doesn’t give a rat’s ass about abortion, except when their children need one. Abortion has never been anything more than a convenient way of keeping single-issue voters in line, while at the same time vilifying Democrats as fetal murderers.
Let’s remember that roughly two-thirds of the electorate approve of easy access to abortion, and consider it a basic right. Republicans are not on the right side of this issue, no matter what SCOTUS does.
Let’s also remember that Roe was always a jerry-rigged construction, a judicial solution to a legislative problem. It never really “legalized” abortion per se — that would involve a law-making body — it simply made it unconstitutional to deny a woman the right to abortion.
Once that right is taken away, Congress could theoretically issue a national ban on abortion. But it’s hard to imagine anything like that passing both houses in any foreseeable future.
Which means that actual bans will need to be enacted on a state-by-state basis. Twenty-one states already have “trigger” laws ready to enact on the day Roe goes away.
But you can bet that a lot of other states will go in the opposite direction, expanding and liberalizing access to reproductive choice in every way science allows — evolving medical technology will surely favor the good guys. And it’s not hard to envision pro-choice states aggressively marketing abortion services online to anti-choice states.
This will be problematic for those states, almost all of which will be red.
For one thing, abortion will be forced underground, which means the administrative burden of policing and enforcing it might prove too expensive, unwieldy, and conspicuously foolish for any state to maintain.
At the same time, many of those states will see their laws actively circumvented by neighboring states. Abortion clinics will pop up right across their state lines, complete with shuttle services — some provided free by social service agencies. There will also be abortion pills widely available online, which will be difficult to interdict.
But it’s the political ramifications that will really give Republicans fits. Because going Roe-less means if you’re a Republican legislator you’ll have to put your vote where your mouth is. It was easy enough for these hypocrites to condemn abortion, loudly and self-righteously, knowing that a ban was constitutionally impossible. It might not be so easy when they have to face actual voters on the issue.
Roe has long given them cover to be as bombastic as they want about an issue they can’t do anything about. Now, if a ban is on the table, it won’t be quite the slam dunk they think it is. Remember, they have two-thirds of the population disagreeing with them. In 2011, when the Mississippi legislature put their so-called “personhood” amendment to a vote, they lost by eighteen percentage points. And that was in a solidly anti-abortion state.
With Roe gone, politicians who’ve been hiding behind it forever may find their constituents aren’t at all happy about losing a basic right they’ve taken for granted. If you’re a Republican running for office in a red state, this is not the issue you want to fall on your sword for.
And the same goes for us on the left. There are any number of dire, life-threatening issues that will come before this deeply illegitimate Supreme Court. We have treated abortion rights as a litmus test for far too long. While we’ve dutifully obsessed about it, other rights that are arguably more important — voting rights, to name one — have been inexcusably compromised.
We have enough existential ills demanding our attention, and some triage is called for. We need to pick our fights wisely.