Today (24 June) the US Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe vs Wade, the 1973 case that guaranteed, at a federal level, the right to an abortion. Samuel Alito wrote the decision, with which only three of the nine justices on the court dissented. It was the opinion of the court that the constitution does not guarantee the right to an abortion.
We have known this was coming since the spring, when a draft of the decision was leaked and published by Politico. In truth we have known even longer than that. Since Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal justice who elected not to retire while Barack Obama was president, died aged 87 in 2020 while Donald Trump was in office and a Republican-majority Senate rushed Amy Coney Barrett onto the bench to replace her with days to go to the presidential election, we have known that some version of this was going to happen.
And so it is not for lack of time or the element of surprise that I don’t know what to say today.
That’s not for a shortage of things I could write. I could write, for example, about how it is already hard to access an abortion in the United States, where in 2017 89 per cent of counties did not have an abortion clinic, according to the Guttmacher Institute, but that “difficult to access” was still better than “literally illegal in roughly half the country”.
I could reiterate that the laws that will now go into effect in many states banning abortion in most cases will disproportionately impact poor people, and people of colour, who do not necessarily have the financial resources or the time to go out of their home state to seek an abortion. Or I could say that, though the impact will be greatest in states where abortion will be outlawed, the whole country will be affected; a burden will now be put on providers in states where abortion remains legal, and women in those states, too, will probably find it harder to schedule an abortion.
I could write about how obscene some of these laws will be. Consider that Oklahoma has written legislation that would claim that life starts at fertilisation. This would outlaw some birth control, such as IUDs. It could impact those trying to get pregnant — that is, actually and actively trying to bring new life into the world — through IVF. Fertility specialists in the United States are reportedly moving embryos to states where abortion will, for now, remain legal. The thinking behind the Oklahoma draft legislation is also not grounded in reality: a third to a half of all fertilised eggs do not implant. Such laws, in other words, decide that a woman is pregnant before her own body does.
I could reiterate how theocratically influenced this decision was, and how inappropriate and unconstitutional that is in a country that theoretically protects religious liberty. I could try to articulate that this was a political and religious decision, not a legal one, and that it is insulting that the justices are pretending otherwise.
I could note that people will die, which is what happens when people are forced to be pregnant. I could note that abortion should be legal regardless of the conditions for women and children, but that it is particularly rich that this country has stripped our federally guaranteed reproductive choice from us in the same year that women have faced shortages of baby formula and of tampons. If life matters so much, I could ask, why do the people who worked so hard to take away the right to choice not foster it — not dedicate their every waking moment to ensuring every American has the ability to live with dignity — after birth? I could then answer myself and say that it is because the charge of hypocrisy is a fairly consistently ineffective one in American politics.
I could try to describe what it feels like to have this right that you’ve cared about since before you knew what it was to have political convictions taken from you and from your fellow citizens. I could try to say that the thing that cooler heads assured us wouldn’t happen is happening, and that we were right doesn’t matter. To be right, in this case, was to be degraded.
I could try to tell any women in the United States reading this who have had an abortion that I know that they did nothing wrong. I know that they made the right choice for themselves and their families, because they made their own choice. Everyone loves someone who’s had an abortion, the saying goes. I could tell you that I know and love people who have had an abortion.
I could try to say that what will happen now is that people who believe in the right to choose and have access to reproductive choice will try to help one another, donating to abortion clinics and volunteering. That the “abortion pill” will surely proliferate, even as states try to make accessing that illegal, too. That people will keep fighting, even though things seem hopeless, and even if they don’t know exactly what the fight now looks like or where it will lead, because here, too, they have no other choice.
But words fall short. There was the decision, and this, our reality. What else is there to say?