On May 2, 2022, Americans learned that the United States Supreme Court was about to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that has protected an American woman’s right to abortion for more than forty years. Politico magazine published a leaked version of a draft majority opinion authored by conservative judge Sam Alito, which would unequivocally invalidate Roe vs. Wade.
For the moment, it is only a project and has no legal value. Regardless of the final form of the notice, it will not become legally effective until after it is published, likely in June. The legal arguments and the final vote could change during the prepublication period. Some observers believe the document was leaked to lock in conservative justices in their hardline stance, while others believe it was leaked to trick them into softening it. However, neither the reason for the leak nor the identity of the lessor is currently known.
The news came as a shock as the conservative Supreme Court majority delayed the reversal Roe vs. Wade in its entirety because it’s such a politically unpopular decision: 59% of Americans think abortion should be legal in most, if not all, cases. Only 28% say they want to see Roe vs. Wade reversed.
Rights to abortion and contraception
The stakes are extremely high. If this project were published in its current form, it would result in abortion becoming illegal in at least 26 states. These states either still have their pre-Roe abortion bans on the books, or they have so-called “trigger laws” that immediately ban abortion once Roe vs. Wade is canceled. Abortion will remain legal in states without such laws, but those states would have the ability to pass new laws to prohibit abortion. The fall of Roe vs. Wade also raises the possibility of a future federal abortion ban.
The fate of abortion is inextricably linked to that other great emancipator of women, contraception.
As the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed, the issue of abortion is a referendum on women’s full participation in society. The option of safe and legal abortion has given women the freedom to plan their lives and their families. Through reproductive choice, women can pursue long-term educational and career goals without fear that an unplanned pregnancy will derail them. Abortion allows women to be economically independent. They don’t have to marry the first man who gets them pregnant or stay in an abusive relationship because their abuser got them pregnant.
The fate of abortion is inextricably linked to that other great emancipator of women, contraception. Alito’s opinion is explicit that there is no constitutional protection for abortion at any stage of pregnancy. Anti-abortion activists have spent years falsely claiming that birth control pills and emergency contraception cause abortions. If the courts accept these false claims, these forms of birth control could be banned as abortion tools. This doesn’t even consider whether Alito’s reasoning will facilitate a challenge to the general constitutional right to contraception.
Since the project leaked, women from all walks of life have shared stories of how abortions have saved everything from their lives to their careers.
“I had just been elected and was faced with the decision of whether or not to have an abortion. And I chose to have an abortion. I walked proudly into Planned Parenthood,’ the New York Attorney General recalled, Tish James, at a pro-choice rally the day after the leak, “And I’m not apologizing to anyone. To anyone.”
Statistics show that the average American abortion patient already has children.
Far-right Congressman Matt Gaetz revealed more than he wanted to about the right’s true motives for banning abortion when he insinuated that the thousands of women protesting for abortion rights were “over-educated, under-loved” and “lonely” with no matches on their internet dating profiles. Putting aside the absurdity that women demand abortion rights because they never have sex, Gaetz’s sneer goes to the heart of why conservatives hate abortion rights. .
Gaetz denigrates all that abortion makes possible in women’s lives. These women became “overeducated” in his sexist estimate because they were not trapped into early marriage by an unplanned pregnancy. “Underloved” and “lonely” represent her speculation that abortion equates to childlessness. Although, in fact, statistics show that the average American abortion patient already has children. But this conflict is not about facts, it is about conflicting ideals of society.
Reestablishing the Male-Headed Nuclear Family
Voters whose number one priority is to ban abortion are sometimes called “single issue voters,” but that’s a misnomer. Abortion is currently the overriding issue they vote on, but it’s not a unique issue for them, it’s just their highest priority in a much larger agenda. They yearn for a return to a conservative social structure in which everyone marries young and forms a nuclear family headed by a man.
If they get what they want on abortion, these socially conservative voters will just move on to the next thing they want.
Outright racism also plays a role in opposition to abortion rights in some corners of the right. A popular right-wing conspiracy theory known as the Great Replacement warns that Americans born in the United States are being replaced by non-white immigrants. Banning abortion is a way to maintain the birth rate in the United States. Last year, Matt Gaetz defended America’s most popular right-wing talk show host for marrying the Great Replacement. The abortion debate is also a referendum on whether the United States will continue to be a secular state, as guaranteed by our Constitution. Abortion opponents make explicitly Christian arguments for banning abortion.
If they get what they want on abortion, these socially conservative voters will just move on to the next thing they want. American social conservatives always tell us that the family is “the building block of civilization”, but not just any type of family. They believe that every family should be a large heterosexual family with a responsible male. They want couples to marry young and have lots of children. It’s a fine personal goal, if it’s a way of life you enjoy, but social conservatives want the state to force as many people as possible into this model.