WASHINGTON DC – On Monday 2 May, a draft Supreme Court decision was leaked. The decision would effectively overturn Roe vs Wade, the 1973 case that guaranteed a right to an abortion federally. If that landmark ruling is overturned, abortion would be legally restricted in roughly half of the states in the US. In some states, access to certain forms of birth control, such as IUDs, would be restricted too, as would IVF. Some people who had miscarriages have already, long before this week, found themselves hounded by prosecutors; that will continue and likely intensify.
For anti-abortion activists, this decision, if it goes ahead, would be the culmination of decades of work. For millions of people, it would be a nightmare, and it is not an exaggeration to say that, since abortions in some cases are necessary to save the life of the pregnant person, the ostensibly “pro-life” decision will, for some, end in death. And so it was interesting to see people who wanted this outcome, and indeed who championed and worked towards it, downplay what it would mean.
The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell — who ensured a conservative Supreme Court by denying president Barack Obama’s nomination a hearing in the final year of his presidency, but later pushed through president Donald Trump’s pick with just days to go before the 2020 election — said he wanted to focus on the leak, not the substance of the document. “If Roe is indeed rolled back, you’re not going to have this massive change in law,” Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s former White House press secretary, said on Fox News. The Fox News co-host, Tomi Lahren, said Democrats would be “counting on low-information viewers and voters who are going to look at this and say abortion is now outlawed” (which indeed it will be in many parts of the country). Various Republican senators said that they would rather focus on the economy (never mind that reproductive choice and the economy are, for the people making — or denied — the choice, inextricably linked).
Why would conservatives downplay the effects of something that they’ve been working towards for years? Perhaps because the majority of the country does not support overturning Roe. Perhaps it’s because support for abortion has increased, not decreased, since Roe’s passage. Perhaps because they do not want to discuss the ways in which the draft decision blurs the separation of church and state, denying millions whose faiths do not restrict the right to an abortion their own religious liberty in the process.
Perhaps, however, elected Democrats, many of whom seem to mostly be telling Americans to vote in November, are overly confident that this will galvanise their supporters. There are months between when the formal Supreme Court decision is expected and the midterm elections.
And so Americans are left with an additional indignity: their rights are attacked in a way that will cause real harm, and all the while we are told not to worry. The pain won’t even hurt.