Saturday brings the infamous first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. Let’s begin by bearing in mind
something that a lot of anti-abortion activists used to say before Roe
was struck down: that the mere striking down of Roe was their goal, and
all they wanted was to see the matter returned to the states.
This was a lie. As we have seen, the striking down of Roe was just the beginning—a first step in a process that they clearly hope will culminate someday, perhaps soon, in a federal abortion ban. After Dobbs, some Republican could have said: Hey, let’s take a breath here. We got our big win, but we are taking away a 50-year-old right from people, and maybe we ought to see how that shakes out.
Of course, they did no such thing. Many states rushed to pass the most extreme measures they could squeeze through their legislatures. Today, abortions are entirely or mostly banned in 14 states. Nine of those bans, according to The New York Times, include no exceptions for rape or incest. Most of these states are in the old Confederacy, but this list also includes Wisconsin, where Roe’s demise kicked in a draconian 1849 law that is still being adjudicated.
On the plus side, 25 states and the District of Columbia have passed new protections. This includes most of the states you’d expect, along with Iowa, Kansas, and Alaska. So all is not lost—and as we’ve seen, what the Supreme Court really accomplished with Dobbs, aside from wrecking its own reputation, is to have solidified public opinion in support of protections for abortion rights. Poll after poll shows all-time-high levels of support for abortion rights.
That’s encouraging, but let’s not lose sight of what’s happening. The Times also reports that since Dobbs, 61 clinics and doctors’ offices have stopped offering abortions. Nineteen of those are in Texas (which is not only a no-exception state but also the lone state where private citizens can sue abortion providers and those who assist patients seeking abortions). That’s thousands of women, maybe millions, being denied a right to bodily autonomy that they had for half a century. Taken away overnight.
On top of that, we’re at the very beginning of a new presidential campaign, and Republican candidates are out there on the trail vowing to go even further. This weekend, there’s the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority Conference in Washington, in addition to a Students for Life rally on the national mall. Mike Pence, who is staking out the most extreme position on the issue, is the only candidate speaking to both, reports Politico’s Playbook. We can be sure that stern anti-abortion pledges will be front and center.
And as for the court? The great Linda Greenhouse has an interesting column in the Times today. She tells the story of how, in the 1940s, the Supreme Court switched from having upheld a Pennsylvania school district’s expulsion of Jehovah’s Witness schoolchildren because they would not salute the U.S. flag to reversing itself—while the United States was at war, no less. The composition of the court changed somewhat, but three justices who’d originally ruled against the schoolchildren changed their position on a similar case.
Why did they switch? Because they saw the hatred their original decision had unleashed. Greenhouse: “Mobs attacked individual Witnesses and destroyed their places of worship. More than 2,000 Witness children were thrown out of school, and some of their parents criminally prosecuted.” Most of America agreed that the court had righted a grievous wrong.
But that was before the era of Fox News and the Federal Society and Leonard Leo and right-wing justices flying on private planes and seeing nothing wrong with it. “So no, I don’t think the Dobbs justices are sorry,” Greenhouse writes. “They did what they were put there to do, what they wanted to do, and they were quite explicit in washing their hands of the consequences.”
But consequences are coming for the
conservative movement of which those six justices are a part. They were felt
already in the midterm elections, and they’re coming in a bigger way still next
November. The price that’s being paid by regular Americans is tragic, and the
structure of the court is such that it could take 20 years before we have a
majority that reverses Dobbs. The six justices, and Donald Trump, and
Republicans in Congress will come to pay a mighty price for what they’ve done
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This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.