We've barely begun to experience the fallout from the Supreme Court's disastrous Dobbs v. Jackson abortion decision. Only a few state-level abortion "trigger laws" like Louisiana's near-total ban have as yet gone into effect. The horrifying Texas law promising 2-10 years in prison for anyone performing an abortion is typically not yet quite operational. While awaiting it, however, Texas officials can conveniently fall back on a 1925 abortion law still on the books. Know one thing: the map of this country is changing in truly grim ways. Soon, abortion will be illegal in most or all cases in at least 16 and possibly up to 22 states.
So consider this a genuine back-to-the-future moment in significant parts of this nation. For so many Americans of a certain age, it involves a nightmarish return to a past that seemed long gone, one that TomDispatch's Robert Lipsyte wrote about relatively recently. (In 1961, 12 years before Roe v. Wade, the police raided the doctor's office where his wife was having an abortion.) I experienced that same America, up close and personal, in the early 1960s when I ventured into the back-alley universe of illegal abortions to help someone I cared deeply about who was, I thought, pregnant. (She wasn't.)
In the process, by utter happenstance, I even met that remarkable abortion pioneer Bill Baird, jailed eight times in five states in those years just for lecturing on the subject, as well as on birth control. At a Boston University event, he would be arrested and convicted for distributing contraceptives, leading to Eisenstadt v. Baird, the Supreme Court case which, in 1972, would finally legalize contraception for all women (something that, with the present Supreme Court, could once again be in doubt). In 1979, six years after Roe, Baird's New York abortion clinic was firebombed and burned to the ground. In the wake of Dobbs he recently wrote an open letter to the Supreme Court that began chillingly, "Since 1963, after witnessing the coat hanger abortion death of an African American unmarried mother of nine at Harlem Hospital, I have been fighting against those who would deny women safe, legal access to abortions and birth control
Just remembering that world at my advanced age of 78 gives me the shivers. I mean "reactionary" has a meaning, but until recently who would have guessed that, in Supreme Court terms, it meant returning us to such an already deeply experienced world of horror. Still, as TomDispatch regular Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, suggests today, we won't enter this ever more nightmarish America without opposition. In fact, the horrors of abortion and the lack of true gun control " Americans bought an estimated 43 million more guns in 2020 and 2021 alone " already seem to be affecting the coming November elections and, as Theoharis suggests today, that's undoubtedly just the beginning of a growing response to the nightmarish all-American world of horror we're now entering. Tom
Controlling Bodies and Subverting Democracy
How Dobbs Is an Attack on Us All
When I was the age that my daughter is now, my favorite sweatshirt had the words "Choice, Choice, Choice, Choice" in rainbow letters across its front. My mom got me that sweatshirt at a 1989 rally in response to Webster v. Reproductive Health Services. In that case, the Supreme Court upheld a Missouri law restricting the use of state funds and facilities for abortion, an early attempt to eat away at Roe v. Wade. And though many adults in the Wisconsin neighborhood where I grew up thought that message inappropriate for a 13 year old, I wore it proudly. Even then, I understood that it spoke not just to a person's right to an abortion, but also to the respect and dignity that should be afforded every human being.
Since then, it has become increasingly clear that our society does not confer rights and dignity on we the people " as seen in the slashing of school food programs, the denial of Medicaid expansion in states that need it most, attacks on Black, Brown, and Native bodies by the police and border patrol, as well as the Supreme Court's recent decisions to put fossil-fuel companies ahead of the rest of us, guns above kids, and deny sovereignty to indigenous people and tribes, while failing to protect our voting rights and ending the constitutional right to abortion.
For millions of us, the Dobbs v. Jackson decision on abortion means that life in America has just grown distinctly more dangerous. The seismic aftershocks of that ruling are already being felt across the country: 22 states have laws or constitutional amendments on the books now poised to severely limit access to abortion or ban it outright. Even before the Supremes issued their decision, states with more restrictive abortion laws had higher maternal-mortality and infant-mortality rates. Now, experts are predicting at least a 21% increase in pregnancy-related deaths across the country.
As is always the case with public-health crises in America " the only industrialized country without some form of universal healthcare " it's the poor who will suffer the most. Survey data shows that nearly 50% of women who seek abortions live under the federal poverty line, while many more hover precariously above it. In states that limit or ban abortion, poor women and others will now face an immediate threat of heightened health complications, as well as the long-term damage associated with abortion restrictions.
Indeed, data collected by economists in the decades after Roe v. Wade indicates that the greater the limits on abortion, the more poverty for parents and the less education for their children. Worse yet, the 13 states that had trigger laws designed to outlaw abortion in the event of a Roe reversal were already among the poorest in the country. Now, poor people in poor states will be on the punishing spear tip of our post-Roe world.
While the Supreme Court's grim decision means more pain and hardship for women, transgender, and gender non-confirming people, it signals even more: the validation of a half-century-old strategy by Christian nationalists to remake the very fabric of this nation. For the businessmen, pastors, and politicians who laid the foundations for the Dobbs ruling, this was never just about abortion.
The multi-decade campaign to reverse Roe v. Wade has always been about building a political movement to seize and wield political power. For decades, it's championed a vision of "family values" grounded in the nuclear family and a version of community life meant to tightly control sex and sexuality, while sanctioning attacks on women and LGBTQIA people. Thanks to its militant and disciplined fight to bring down Roe, this Christian nationalist movement has positioned itself to advance a full-spectrum extremist agenda that is not only patriarchal and sexist, but racist, anti-poor, and anti-democratic. Consider the Dobbs decision the crown jewel in a power-building strategy years in the making. Consider it as well the coronation of a movement ready to flex its power in ever larger, more violent, and more audacious ways.
In that context, bear in mind that, in his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that the Dobbs decision gives the Supreme Court legal precedent to strike down other previously settled landmark civil rights jurisprudence, including Griswold v. Connecticut (access to contraception), Lawrence v. Texas (protection of same-sex relationships), and Obergefell v. Hodges (protection of same-sex marriage). Whether or not these fundamental protections ultimately fall, the Supreme Court majority's justification for Dobbs certainly raises the possibility that any due-process rights not guaranteed by and included in the Constitution before the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868 could be called into question.
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