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Last night, I was having dinner at the home of a couple I know, both socialists, when our phones started blowing up. The one of us who is a man and had cooked the dinner, in case you are wondering today if feminism has achieved anything, finally looked down at his screen. He said: “They are overturning Roe. The Supreme Court is overturning Roe. Someone leaked the decision.”
What I will never forget about this moment is the face of the woman across the table from me, whose jaw dropped and froze. I am pretty sure that I looked the same. I knew it was the moment to say something meaningful, and I seemed to have lost access to my vocabulary and the capacity to feel anything.
Memo to radical conservative activists: despite your wettest fantasies, “libs” don’t cry at moments like this. We get angry, really angry. And we fight. Although we have had many reasons to come for you in the past five years, you just united us for the midterms.
Congratulations, boy-os: the gloves are off.
Let’s look at the facts here. When this decision becomes final, and it will become final, as Oriana Gonzalez writes at Axios, “Abortion would immediately become illegal in at least 13 states … and more would likely follow suit quickly.” Currently, 18 states explicitly protect the right to choose, legislation that has been hustled through Democratic legislatures in the last eight months, while 19 neither ban nor protect the procedure. Five of these neutral states, including Florida, are in the Deep South, and all except, perhaps, North Carolina are likely to flip to Texas-style bans to drive turnout in the fall.
Let’s be clear about something else. Outlawing abortion is the outcome of a radical conservative minority. The success of this minority has been entirely driven by mega-donors and organizations that create voter turnout through disinformation and motivating extremists. The notion that a cluster of cells that cannot survive outside a human host, one that has no heart, functioning organs, or nervous system, is a “baby” and an “innocent child” that feels pain is a lie. In many ways, it is the modern GOP’s original disinformation campaign.
We need to consistently name the fact that the anti-abortion agenda is a radical one, supported only by theology and medical fictions invented by cynical political consultants. As I wrote last September, a video called The Silent Scream that began circulating in right-wing circles in 1984 was a symphony of misinformation about gestation. It climaxed in an assertion that a non-viable fetus feels fear and pain.
This pain and fear were impossible, given the biological realities of fetal development. However, as I noted, the truth did not matter:
The idea of vulnerable babies in pain was a powerful one. It caused a firestorm on the right, one that conveniently distracted the president’s religious supporters from the fact that he would not act directly to ban abortion. This was a hope they had cherished since Reagan declared, in 1981, that he agreed with some religious leaders: human life, the President said, began at conception.
Yet most Americans support the right to choose and understand the complexities of what it means for one gender to be responsible for birthing a nation. Moreover, despite massive propaganda campaigns, Americans have consistently supported the right to choose. For example, an ABC News/Washington Post poll released in the fall of 2021 showed that 60 percent of Americans supported the reproductive rights conveyed by Roe.
An Associated Press/NORC poll released a few months earlier sees even broader support for abortion. Researchers found that 87 percent of Americans “support abortion when the woman’s life is in danger, 84 percent support exceptions in the case of rape or incest, and 74 percent support abortion if the child would be born with a life-threatening illness.”
Regardless, these procedures will be criminalized under the laws that radical conservative majorities have passed—all of them. Groups like Iowans for Life want to go further and ban highly effective birth control methods, like IUDs, as abortifacients. Texas is going after medicated abortion (over 50 percent of 2020 abortions occurred through that method).
History is not always a guide to the future. Still, I can promise you one thing: people who want and need abortions will get them, even though some states are floating legislation that abortion laws targeting their citizens must be enforced by states where the procedure is still legal. Many of those women will be conservatives.
That Republicans have now overthrown the will of the people is no surprise: they are illiberal, and this gynecological coup d’état is an excellent example of that. And yes, this all happened because it seemed far worse to many in the Democratic party to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 than to protect civil rights. We don’t have to dwell on what’s over is over, but we must acknowledge that this was a terrible political decision.
While Donald Trump’s undersized fingerprints are all over this, so is a massive GOP political consulting industry that knew it couldn’t collect small donations from radicals forever without producing something. Any realistic feminist has known for several years that Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett were appointed to the Court by Trump to reverse hard-won freedoms and deliver this little gift to the evangelical, nationalist wing of the party.
Overturning Roe is the opening wedge. We have known this since the ultra-right majority on Supreme Court allowed a restrictive Texas law to go into effect in September 2021. That law put millions of women in jeopardy, opening the door to the passage of new “trigger” laws that would go into effect when the Court overturned Roe.
At the time, I published this interview with abortion rights activist Heather Booth about the rise of the Jane Collective, a network of women who not only steered those who needed them to abortion providers but learned how to do them.
Having abortion be legal in some states and not others is not enough. As Booth pointed out, when the procedure became legal in a few states, working-class women were left holding the bag. “By 1970, as abortion laws started to change in New York, Hawaii, Colorado, if you could get there, you could get a legal, medical abortion, and women who could afford it were able to get procedures,” Heather told me. “So, the people who remained were poor: community people, much more African American, and younger. Some people had several children and couldn’t medically have another child or couldn’t afford it.”
The reality is that radical conservatives only like “babies” before birth. They have no intention of supporting them as children, teens, or young adults, as the failure to pass Joe Biden’s signature Build back Better legislation shows. Instead, the radical right would rather put their money into building megachurches and media enterprises that saturate our society with lies. They would rather spend on massive political consulting firms that fleece seniors of their hard-earned cash and allow billionaires to hoard money to take control of a democratic society.
The decision to overturn Roe will not stand. It cannot stand. And the Democratic leadership must be honest with the American people: the right to choose cannot be restored through gimmicks like impeaching Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh for lying during their confirmation hearings (which they did).
Joe Biden has vowed that the Democrats will respond. But let’s be clear: we can only solve this problem through good, old-fashioned, face-to-face politics, not social media strategies, small donation fundraising for candidates who will not win, and endless phone banking and postcard-writing to strangers in other states. We must organize our own neighbors, towns, and state parties to protect our civil rights.
As Heather Booth responded last night when I asked in despair: “What do we do now?“
The struggle continues! Drive this into the election at every level. We need every arena for action: legal, legislative, building the underground and support, protest, message, and organize!
We have six months until the next election. Let’s use it, Democrats, to show these radical Republicans which party represents freedom and the will of the people.
Claire Bond Potter is Professor of Historical Studies at The New School for Social Research and co-Executive Editor of Public Seminar. Her most recent book is Political Junkies: From Talk Radio to Twitter, How Alternative Media Hooked Us on Politics and Broke Our Democracy (Basic Books, 2020). This essay first appeared on her Substack, Political Junkie.