Elections matter, and nowhere has this been clearer than in Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing on abortion. Donald Trump (you remember the erstwhile lothario who was loudly pro-choice when he was openly sleeping around) pledged to name Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision recognizing a woman’s fundamental right to control her own body. And he made good on that promise by naming Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, as complements to Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
The narrow issue being argued this week is the Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks, (even for rape and incest), rather than the established viability threshold of 23-24 weeks before the state has an interest in the outcome of the pregnancy. But many women, especially young women, don’t even know they are pregnant 15 weeks after conception. Nineteen percent of women in Mississippi have no health coverage and can’t afford contraception. Besides, the contraception failure rate is ten percent. Because of the impact of unwanted pregnancy on a woman’s life and liberty, nearly one of every four women has made the difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy. Clearly, this law, if the Court goes along, would upend nearly half a century of precedent established in Roe v. Wade.
This is horrifyingly misogynistic, depriving women of their Constitutional rights to liberty, to control over the own bodies, their health and their lives, limiting women’s opportunities for education, jobs and economic security. As the lawyers arguing against the Mississippi law observed, this would be a leap back toward the Dark Ages.
Letting the states resolve the issue ignores the Constitutional protection that states may not deprive people of their fundamental rights. If the Court goes beyond upholding this egregious Mississippi limitation and actually reverses Roe nationally, or even if it returns the decision to the states, it’s a shameful twist of events. Eight states have already passed abortion bans; at least 20 states are reportedly poised to do so if Roe is overturned. Never before has the Court taken back such a fundamental right.
The hypocrisy of the Republicans who supported Trump’s appointees and embraced the composition of this Supreme Court leaves me speechless. The very same officials who decry vaccine mandates as an unwarranted invasion into anti-vaxxers’ freedoms are only too happy to dictate what women can decide about their own bodies. These are the same solons who fret about the fate of the unborn but consistently vote against legislation designed to help millions of children and others after birth.
Maine Senator Susan Collins said she would vote against any nominee who “demonstrates hostility” to Roe v. Wade – that is, until her support of Brett Kavanaugh was the vote he needed for confirmation. (In his confirmation hearing, he touted his support of stare decisis, respect for precedent.) Now, Kavanaugh’s vote on the nation’s highest court could well be decisive in curtailing or ending a woman’s right to choose. Collins was either lied to, or she was lying. Outrageously, she now says she supports federal legislation to codify Roe, but she doesn’t support the House bill to do that, now sitting in the Senate. Her claiming to support any legislation when clearly Senate votes are lacking is blatant chutzpah. She is an affront to the tradition of principled female GOP Senators from Maine like Margaret Chase Smith and Olympia Snowe.
Pro-choice Democrats, Independents and Republicans bear some of the responsibility for this turn of events. With the exception of a relative handful of activists, for decades pro-choice supporters were complacent thinking that federal architecture would protect the right to choose. Meanwhile, zealous termites were unrelentingly gnawing at the foundation of Roe in state legislatures. Assuming the worst, the challenge now is to make this an important voting issue in state and congressional elections in the 2022 mid-terms and beyond.
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