The era of legal abortion in the United States is over. The clock on women’s rights has been rolled back half a century.
The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Friday morning that states can ban or limit abortion earlier in pregnancy than a fetus would be viable outside the womb, effectively overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion throughout the country.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion, which was signed by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett—three of whom were appointed by former president Donald Trump. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a concurring opinion. “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences,” Alito wrote. “And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.” The opinion notably quotes a 17th century English jurist who had two women executed for “witchcraft,” defended marital rape, and believed capital punishment should extend to kids as young as 14.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer, the court’s remaining three liberals, wrote a scathing, heartbreaking dissent, writing, “With sorrow—for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection—we dissent.”
Every single person in this country knew Roe was doomed the moment Donald Trump was elected in 2016 and immediately gifted an open Supreme Court seat to fill (he ended up with three). But Republicans nevertheless spent the last half-decade telling women we were being hysterical. They insisted we were exaggerating—inserting unnecessary drama into very normal elections and judicial confirmation proceedings with our wild fear-mongering about abortion rights. Calm down, they told us. Abortion isn’t going anywhere.
“We have seen special-interest groups whip their followers into a frenzy by spreading misrepresentations and outright falsehoods about Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial record,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in voting to confirm Kavanaugh in 2018. Collins insisted that Kavanaugh had assured her Roe was “settled law,” and she characterized women’s concerns about abortion rights as “over-the-top rhetoric and distortions,” despite the fact that Kavanaugh’s record extremely, obviously pointed toward overturning Roe.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) quite literally called women “hysterical” for sounding the alarm about Roe during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings: “People are going to pretend that Americans have no historical memory, and supposedly there haven’t been screaming protesters saying, ‘Women are going to die,’ at every hearing for decades,” Sasse told Kavanaugh. “So the fact that the hysteria has nothing to do with you means that we should ask: What’s the hysteria coming from?” Hysteria sprouted out of our big stupid mouths, he implied.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), another supposed abortion rights supporter in the GOP caucus along with Collins, insisted with her vote to confirm Justice Barrett that Barrett would never overturn Roe. “I don’t see her overturning the decision in Roe v. Wade, based on—based on the weighting of the reliance factors,” Murkowski said, whatever the fuck that means.
This persistent denial of the cold, hard truth seeped into a televised presidential debate in 2020, in which Joe Biden said Roe was on the election ballot, and Trump responded: “You don’t know what’s on the ballot. Why is it on the ballot?”
“It’s on the ballot in the Court,” Biden replied, to which Trump said, “You don’t know [Barrett’s] view on Roe v. Wade.”
Yes! Yes we did! We knew all of the justices’ views on Roe v. Wade, and we knew Trump specifically handpicked them for that reason—or rather, the Federalist Society handpicked them for that reason and delivered them to a clueless Trump—and it was absolutely infuriating to be lied to for fucking six years about this.
I’ve covered this issue for 12 years. I sounded the alarm countless times over the course of my career on Republicans coming for Roe, and I couldn’t stop it from happening. None of us who reported on abortion access, or donated to abortion funds, or turned out to vote to protect our reproductive freedom could stop it. I’ve watched conservative politicians lie about the end goal, and now I’ll watch them get away with that lie, exactly as they wanted. There is no victory in this “I told you so.”
So here we are. Roe is dead. Thirteen states currently have “trigger bans” on the books, which means abortion is now effectively banned there. Every other state is now invited to ban this common health procedure as it pleases, despite the fact that a clear majority of Americans support legal access to abortion.
Of course Republicans won’t stop at simply returning abortion control to the states: They’re plotting a nationwide six-week abortion ban that would apply even to blue states, potentially eliminating access across the country. And Democrats, despite currently controlling the House, Senate, and White House, are unable to anything about this, because “moderates” like Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) refuse to nuke the filibuster.
Expect more arrests of women who have miscarriages or attempt to induce their own abortions—one of whom recently was reported to the police by the hospital staff treating her. Expect the digital platforms we use daily to spy on and punish us for even seeking information about abortion. Expect the maternal mortality rate to increase. Expect all of this, if you didn’t already anyway.
This is a human rights disaster—not in the same way that America was a disaster before Roe, when women were dying from coat-hanger abortions, because we have safe abortion medication now. The medical landscape is different. But it’s still poor women and women of color who will suffer the most, like they did half a century ago.
American women are being told, once again, that our lives are not as important as the potential lives we’re supposed to be carrying to term, however much harm it may cause us. Hysteria feels like the appropriate emotion, doesn’t it?