Right now, per a leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court, it’s looking a lot like Roe v. Wade—the precedent that made abortion legal in 1973—is on the brink of being overturned. Cited in said draft opinion to justify this jarringly inhumane decision, you’ll note, is a 17th century jurist who defended marital rape and ordered two women executed for “witchcraft.”
Many of us have been sounding the alarm on conservatives’ decades-long holy war on the basic health service (and all of the other fundamental rights whose fates are inextricably linked to Roe) for quite a while—only to be met with apathy from the public or assurances from overpaid white, male pundits that we were hysterical and overreacting.
Well, it sure looks like we were fucking spot on.
If the inevitable fall of Roe is your first entry into all of… this, one of the most important starting points in this conversation is understanding that abortion has touched all of our lives—whether you’re among the one in four women or pregnancy-capable people who have had an abortion or not. Your classrooms, workplaces, and nearly every inch of day-to-day life as you know it would look enormously different if people around you—family, loved ones, acquaintances, strangers—hadn’t had access to the abortion care they needed. Monday’s news should galvanize you to reflect on this. It should also galvanize you to follow the vitally important work of groups like We Testify and Shout Your Abortion, which have been transforming the conversations around abortion and stigma for years via storytelling.
Because, to be crystal fucking clear, this is absolutely about abortion; but it’s also very much about education, workplace equality, and economic justice. Amid an ongoing rise in criminal charges for pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriage and abortion, striking down Roe is about privacy and safety from prisons and policing. It’s about sexual violence and dignity for survivors, who are retraumatized and endangered by abortion bans that empower the state to deny their autonomy and violate their consent with forced pregnancies. It’s about all of life as we’ve come to know it in this country.
If you’ve vaguely followed ostensibly “pro-choice” politicians on the issue, you’ll know it’s embarrassingly rare for any of them to so much as say the word “abortion” aloud; that’s a big part of how we got to this point. But it’s not just politicians—so many people, who may even identify as “pro-choice,” are convinced that this conversation simply does not impact them, and therefore, they’re excused from participating in it. This notion is invariably rooted in stigma, in the idea that abortion only impacts the most disposable members of society, that it’s somehow dirty, and those who seek care are irresponsible, slutty, unimportant.
I don’t know how you feel, personally, about abortion, because I don’t know you. But if you’re eager to have conversations about and disseminate plucky Instagram infographics or viral Twitter threads about other social justice issues, and not abortion, I think it’s worth asking yourself why that is. A couple other notes: You should care about things that deeply affect other people even if you can’t directly see how they affect you—that is called being a decent fucking human being. But more importantly, abortion absolutely fucking affects you.
Even with Roe v. Wade in place, abortion has been vastly inaccessible for many, especially the most marginalized people, for years now. While Democratic politicians were avoiding saying the word “abortion,” conservative lawmakers have been building the foundations for this outcome since the moment Roe was decided. In 1976, they made it economically inaccessible, particularly for Black, Indigenous, and people of color, with the Hyde Amendment, prohibiting federal funds from covering most abortions. On the state level, the last decade—and particularly the last year—has seen a surge in all kinds of abortion bans and restrictions, from near-total bans enforced by citizen surveillance and lawsuits like in Texas, to laws like the 15-week ban in Mississippi at the heart of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, AKA, the case that’s being wielded to end Roe.
Despite these already bleak realities, the policy impacts of Roe being overturned will still be devastating—more devastating than the majority of the American public, who believed as recently as 2018 that Roe was in no danger, can fathom. It’s abortion today, but it’s same-sex marriage, interracial marriage, any vastly important issue of agency and dignity you can name, tomorrow, when the Supreme Court pushes these matters to the state-level. It’s abortion today, but it’s birth control and IVF, tomorrow, when we open the door for fetal personhood rights that reduce women and pregnant people to state-controlled ovens, their bodies, to literal crime scenes. I don’t even have to say that criminalization of pregnancy outcomes will come next, after the fall of Roe—that’s already happening. Criminal charges for pregnancy outcomes including miscarriage and self-managed abortion have tripled in recent years, according to National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
While wealthy and middle-class people in states like California that have more liberalized abortion laws may hold relative, tremendous privilege compared with people in, say, Texas, state surveillance and jailing for pregnancy outcomes are happening everywhere. In March, a California woman’s 11-year prison sentence for a stillbirth was finally overturned, nearly four years later. Since medication abortion can’t be distinguished from a miscarriage, when abortion is a crime, so are all pregnancy outcomes. This is the United States of America, right-fucking-now.
As organizers and people who have had abortions have asserted for years, we are not powerless; there are actions we can all take to help: donating what we can to abortion and practical support funds, donating to legal defense funds for pregnant people, sharing information about abortion funds, sharing information about self-managed abortion with medication and how to protect ourselves from criminalization, community education, volunteering at clinics. This collective moral obligation coexists with the reality that we urgently need massive, structural change, too—expanding the Supreme Court, granting D.C. statehood and senators, abolishing the filibuster to codify abortion rights on the federal level, making abortion providers federal employees with qualified immunity. We have to do everything we can within our own communities, and also refuse to accept toothlessness from the representatives who are employed by us to represent us. Now is not the time for lawmakers who see women and pregnant people as human beings to leave any stone unturned or be bogged down by white supremacist notions of tradition and civility.
Because tradition and civility will not save us. Following dated rules and norms will not save us. The courts and the system at large will not save us. And not talking about abortion, or pretending it somehow doesn’t affect you, will absolutely condemn us to this fate.