50.50: Opinion

The US anti-abortion crisis can only end if Democrats restore our rights

The Supreme Court’s imposition of white Christian patriarchal authoritarian rule is out of step with the people

Chrissy Stroop
Chrissy Stroop
27 June 2022, 11.00am

A woman at a protest in support of abortion rights in the US


Brian Snyder/Reuters/Alamy Stock Photo

Last Friday, a faction of Catholic extremists on the US Supreme Court overturned the nearly 50-year-old landmark ruling in Roe v Wade, and with it the constitutional right to abortion in the US.

The imposition of white Christian patriarchal authoritarian rule through the court is wildly anti-democratic, regressive and out of step with the American people. According to recent polling, 55% of Americans describe themselves as pro-choice on the issue of abortion. And two-thirds (66%) did not want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe.

But the court’s decision, while horrific and far-reaching, should have surprised no one, considering the illegitimate stacking of the court with judges who have the Christian Right’s seal of approval – thanks to the machinations of former president Donald Trump and Republican senator Mitch McConnell.

I and other commentators with expert knowledge of the Christian Right anticipated this occurrence long before an unprecedented leak of a draft of the decision caused considerable public uproar in early May.

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Nevertheless, the release of the final decision unleashed a political circus of sorts, in which ‘moderate’ Republican senator Susan Collins and ‘moderate’ Democratic senator Joe Manchin – both of whom voted to confirm Trump’s appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, back in 2018 – affected shock that Kavanaugh misled them regarding his supposed commitment to legal precedent.

Manchin (one of two Democratic senators who refuse to end the filibuster rule that minority groupings can use to block laws from passing, thereby hamstringing his party from making critical legislative accomplishments despite its narrow majority in the Senate) also has the dubious distinction of being the only Democrat who voted to confirm Kavanaugh as a new justice.

Former vice president Mike Pence praised the justices who voted to overturn Roe and called for a national abortion ban.

Trump reportedly made private comments that he expects this Supreme Court decision to have a negative impact on the Republican Party. Publicly, however, the former president seems happy enough to accept praise for his key role in the endgame of the Christian Right’s long-term strategy, pursued over decades, to overturn Roe v Wade and decimate gender equality in America.

For example, he was standing behind Illinois representative Mary Miller at a rally on Saturday when she called the Supreme Court’s decision a “historic victory for white life”, for which she thanked the former president “on behalf of all the MAGA patriots in America”.

Although a Miller campaign staffer scrambled to claim that she had meant to say “right to life”, Miller did not correct herself or seem in the least fazed by her supposed mistake. Instead, she raised her hands in applause, and the crowd at the campaign event cheered along with her.

A born-again Sunday school teacher and homeschooling advocate who is pretty typical of America’s white evangelical Protestants, Miller previously made national headlines for emphatically stating, at a pro-Trump rally on the day before the 6 January insurrection, that “Hitler was right” about the need to indoctrinate children as a means of achieving change.

Miller also believes more “Judeo-Christian faith” to be the only acceptable response to the US’s gun violence epidemic, voted against aid for Ukraine, and has not spoken out against Russia’s invasion of that country – according to reporting in the Chicago Tribune.

Thanks to radical traditionalist Catholics, and evangelicals such as Mary Miller and Mike Pence, the US no longer guarantees the right to abortion care, even on paper. And as New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino argues, we are not now returning to a pre-Roe America. Post-Roe America is going to be even worse for people who can get pregnant:

We have entered an era not of unsafe abortion but of widespread state surveillance and criminalisation – of pregnant women, certainly, but also of doctors and pharmacists and clinic staffers and volunteers and friends and family members, of anyone who comes into meaningful contact with a pregnancy that does not end in a healthy birth.

Democrats must take action

I find one glimmer of hope, however, in the fact that the Supreme Court’s radical decision has so severely shattered the expectations offered by the US’s unwritten social contract that it has now become permissible for even elite, politically well-connected Americans to declare the Supreme Court Illegitimate.

Of course, it’s one thing for progressive Democrats such as senator Elizabeth Warren (one of my personal ‘sheroes’) to proclaim that the Supreme Court has “burned whatever legitimacy they may still have had”.

But it’s more striking when someone like Norman Ornstein, a senior fellow emeritus at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, states outright that the court “has lost its fundamental legitimacy”.

I first began to admire Ornstein (a registered Democrat and consummate centrist who has voted for members of both parties) when, in helping to launch the years of debate and discussion we’ve had around political polarisation in the US, he forthrightly pointed out that the problem is “asymmetric” and worse on the Right.

That same candour has been on display recently in Ornstein’s willingness to say things like this: “We now have a Supreme Court that is moving every aspect of our society in a radical direction, blowing up any reasonable reading of the Constitution to fit its radical ideological and partisan views.”

In order to muster the political will to do anything about the Supreme Court’s attack on Americans’ fundamental rights, we have to be prepared to say, loudly and often – in messages and phone calls to politicians’ offices, in protests, on social media, in print – that the court is illegitimate, and we will not accept its rulings.

Given the general fecklessness of the Democratic gerontocracy, it is immensely helpful when someone like Ornstein uses his platform to spread that message.

It will take a lot more than talk, of course, to restore anything like fairness and justice to the US Supreme Court. Nevertheless, persistent political speech is one means of applying pressure on Democrats such as Biden and Manchin who are reluctant to abolish the filibuster or to rebalance the court by adding justices.

Unless and until the Democratic leadership is willing to play hardball to restore and advance the rights of women, LGBTQ Americans and minorities, the country will remain in a state of instability and crisis, with a lack of trust in our fundamental institutions.

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