The United States Supreme Court has overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that guaranteed the right to an abortion for half a century. The ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization is devastating in its own right, but also foreshadows how this extremist rightwing majority on the Supreme Court could destroy more than a century of progress. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the heavily criticized majority opinion, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett. Four of these five were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote, three by President Trump and one, Alito, appointed by President George W. Bush.
As soon as the Dobbs opinion was published on Friday, June 24th, many states rushed to implement "trigger laws" passed in advance of Roe's overturning, allowing an immediate abortion ban. The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health advocacy organization, reports that 26 states are now definitely or likely going to ban abortions.
"Forty percent of women of childbearing age or more will be affected," Kathryn Kolbert said on the Democracy Now! news hour in the wake of the decision. Kolbert co-founded the Center for Reproductive Rights and argued the landmark Supreme Court case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. The Dobbs decision also overturns Casey, which solidified the precedent set by Roe. "We're talking about hundreds of thousands of women who will be seeking abortions for their unintended pregnancies having to travel hundreds and hundreds of miles to safe states. This is no way to provide healthcare. This is no way to live in a democracy."
On the day of the Dobbs ruling, Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a memorandum describing his timeline for implementing the state's total abortion ban, with its narrow exception for the protection of the life of the pregnant person and no exception for rape or incest. "Some prosecutors may choose to immediately pursue criminal prosecutions… Abortion providers could be criminally liable for providing abortions starting today," he wrote.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU immediately sued, winning a temporary restraining order blocking Texas from enforcing its century-old abortion ban. Abortions resumed at several clinics across Texas, but only up to the sixth week of pregnancy – before many people even know they are pregnant.
"I am extremely concerned," Kamyon Conner, executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, said on Democracy Now! "Our abortion fund specifically is on the radar of anti-abortion extremists and our conservative elected officials. We have received cease-and-desist letters about our work, tweets saying that they will target us for felony penalties for continuing our work."
Kamyon Conner's work has suddenly become more dangerous, and much more needed.
"Our abortion fund, the TEA Fund, helps people pay for their abortions in Texas, which costs anywhere from $500 or more…because there's no insurance coverage of abortion in our state," Kamyon explained. "Other abortion funds also do practical or logistical support, basically helping someone travel to wherever they need to go within the state, previously, or outside of the state, as well. That includes bus passes, plane tickets, meal vouchers, Ubers from your airport to where you're staying, and hotel stays." All these activities could well be prosecutable in Texas and other ant-choice states, if deemed to be "aiding and abetting" abortions.
The United States is rapidly becoming a patchwork of states with fifty different sets of laws either banning, restricting, or, in sixteen cases, guaranteeing access to an abortion. This dystopian system has been forced on this country's 330 million people by five unelected Republican Supreme Court justices, all of whom have lifetime appointments.
Supreme Court decisions are not open to judicial review, but they can be countered by a force more powerful: the people. A strong majority of all Americans support access to safe, legal abortion. A vocal, well-organized and well-funded minority has worked for decades to overturn Roe. And they won't be satisfied with just this victory.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a concurring opinion in Dobbs arguing the court should also overturn precedents that legalized same-sex marriage, access to contraception, and intimate same-sex relationships. Just in the last couple of weeks, the court has gutted gun control laws and further whittled away at the separation of church and state, and allowed racist gerrymandering to stand.
On Thursday, President Biden said he would support a filibuster carve-out to pass a law codifying Roe v. Wade. With the current, slim majority in the Senate, Democrats, independents and pro-choice Republicans could do this today. And so much more hinges on the 2022 midterm elections. The majority who support the gains of progressive movements over the past century have four months to organize, to forcefully demonstrate their power at the polls.
As goes Roe, so goes the nation.