Near midnight, after Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked to Politico, I decided to stay up late writing a new commentary to replace the one I already submitted on a different topic. Considering the rage and horror I feel, I knew I wouldn’t get much sleep anyway.
I was 16 when the Supreme Court ruled for abortion rights in Roe. Now a wildly unrepresentative Court is about to reverse a 49-year-old precedent and take away the right to bodily autonomy of more than half of America’s population, including my sisters, nieces, friends, colleagues, and more heroes than I can count.
On Facebook, I posted a phrase recalled by a friend, “But her emails.” Hillary Clinton won nearly 3 million more votes in 2016 than Donald Trump, but because of our undemocratic Electoral College and other factors including sheer misogyny, Trump became president and appointed three justices to the Court. Neil Gorsuch was installed after Sen. Mitch McConnell denied even a hearing to President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, who was ironically intended as a centrist compromise. Amy Coney Barrett was rushed onto the court just before the 2020 election.
When you add the impending tyranny to our undemocratic Senate structure, the aforementioned Electoral College, aggressive gerrymandering of House seats, and actions in several states to increase vote suppression and nullification to ensure perpetual Republican victories regardless of the will of voters, it is fanciful to call ourselves a democracy where rights are protected.
Most Americans do not want to see Roe overturned. Republicans don’t care, and haven’t for a long time. On this and other issues, they show their loathing for democracy. They are determined to impose a fascist autocracy that will betray every noble principle America ever touted, and undo much of our progress in what Dr. King called the task of making real the promise of democracy.
Alito’s draft says the decision should be limited to abortion, but why trust him and his cohorts? Justice Brett Kavanaugh said in his confirmation hearing that Roe was settled precedent. In fact, Alito’s reasoning applies just as well to contraception rights under Griswold and Eisenstadt and to marriage equality under Obergefell. What would stop the nativist fanatics unleashed by Trump from restoring laws criminalizing sodomy and interracial marriages? What would stop a Republican Congress and president from enacting a nationwide abortion ban without exceptions for rape or incest? The Mississippi law that Alito’s draft opinion upholds has none.
Meanwhile, recriminations have already begun on the left. One Twitter user wrote, “Dems could have increased the court. Instead, all we got was tweets. Like always. Now women’s rights are lost…. It’s not a secret Republicans despise abortion. Dems inaction has fueled this.”
I replied, “No! Democrats don’t have enough seats in the House or the Senate. Why does that not matter to people? It’s Democrats’ fault because we agree overwhelmingly but not unanimously? That’s not just absurd, it’s monstrous and suicidal. It’s the fascist Republicans who are doing this.”
Our only chance of preventing a slide toward a dystopian nightmare is to turn out in record numbers in November and increase Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Yet as usual, some of us prefer internecine warfare between progressive and centrist Democrats that only helps the GOP.
Mike Franken, a retired Navy vice admiral and Democrat who is running for senator from Iowa, writes, “This will go down as one of the most disastrous decisions the Court has ever made, certainly during my lifetime. Nobody ever tells men what they can and cannot do on health care in this country.
“I’m running against Chuck Grassley because as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he oversaw blocking Merrick Garland and confirming right-wing justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. And this November, we MUST turn Iowa blue, expand our Democratic Senate majority, and codify Roe as law once and for all.”
Admiral Franken is right. As frustrating as it is that we have to win by a landslide just to squeak by, that is what we need to do in the midterm elections if we are to rescue our republic and preserve the freedom of women, African Americans, religious minorities, and LGBTQ people.
Can we please keep our eyes on the prize? Let us not dishonor the spirits of the generations that brought us this far by withdrawing out of despair or futility. That only gives a win to the bullies. We owe our ancestors and our children better.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist at [email protected].