Bad First Drafts
The Supreme Court's plan to overturn Roe v. Wade just leaked. Is there time to fight it?
On Monday evening, as celebrities dressed in chainmail and tulle descended on the Met ball, Politico dropped a bombshell: They got their hands on a leaked copy of the Supreme Court majority’s draft opinion in a case challenging Roe v. Wade. And it looks like the Court is set to overturn Roe and end the era of legal abortion in the United States.
Anyone who was paying attention knew some version of this was coming. I knew this was coming. I still feel ill.
I thought this decision would have a lighter touch, that the Court would functionally overturn Roe without formally overturning Roe.
I underestimated their radicalism.
If this is how the Court rules, American women and other people who can get pregnant are entering in a new, dark era. The anti-abortion movement is already gearing up to pass a federal law outlawing abortion nationwide. This case, contrary to what the Court claims, won’t push abortion back to the states. It’s going to open up a whole circus of restrictions, court battles, and pitched fights. And in the meantime, thousands and thousands of women will be forced into motherhood against their will. Some won’t live through it.
And three members of this Supreme Court majority were appointed by a president who didn’t win a majority of the vote, claims the last election was rigged, and attempted to stage a coup.
Women in America remain far from achieving equality. But we’ve made huge strides. Since Roe v. Wade was decided, the number of women enrolled in higher education has skyrocketed. The wage gap has narrowed. Men have begun to spend more time with their children. Fewer American women now die from pregnancy and childbirth; fewer infants die, too. And generally, bluer, more pro-choice states are better places for women and children: They have lower infant and maternal mortality rates, more support for mothers and babies, and more financially stable and successful women.
So here’s what we know is coming if Roe goes, from a wealth of research on what happens when women are denied abortions in the US and when women live in countries with restrictive abortion laws:
Maternal mortality rates will go up (by as much as 21%, according to one estimate). This is basic math in the best of times: Carrying a pregnancy to term is more physically dangerous than having an abortion; if you force more women to carry pregnancies to term by denying them abortions, some of the women who would have lived had they ended their pregnancies will wind up dying of pregnancy-related causes. Forcing women to continue pregnancies against their will is, for too many of them, a death sentence.
More women will die at the hands of men. American women are more than twice as likely to die by homicide while pregnant than they are to die of pregnancy-related causes. A pregnant Black woman is three times as likely to be murdered as a Black woman who isn’t pregnant. And stripping women of abortion rights only feeds into the same culture of misogyny that enables male violence. The government of many states and the Supreme Court are effectively saying that women’s bodies are not our own. That’s the same idea that allows pervasive violence against women. And more women forced into pregnancy, particularly in stressful, violent, and unhealthy relationships, means more women abused and killed.
Women will wind up poorer. We have a lot of information about what happens when women can’t get abortions they want, and one clear outcome is that they wind up poorer. Compared to women who were able to end pregnancies, women who are denied abortions are more likely to be reliant on welfare aid even years later. “I can’t afford to have a baby” is the number-one reason women end pregnancies. Forcing women to bear children they know they can’t afford to have, obviously, leaves women poorer. And in the US, with our system of zero paid parental leave and zero childcare, forced childbearing also means that women are pushed out of the paid workforce, which leaves them poorer for the rest of their lives.
Kids will do worse. Children of women who are forced to carry pregnancies to term wind up worse off than the children of women who were able to choose which pregnancies to bear. They grow up in poorer and less stable families, where they are more likely to witness (or be the victim of) abuse. They struggle in school. They are less likely to have the parental resources they need — both material and emotional — to thrive.
More women will be abused and for longer. Studies have also found that women who were not able to access wanted abortions wound up more likely to be stuck in abusive situations than women who were able to terminate. Having a baby with someone creates a permanent connection — and for women who are abused, it means a permanent connection to an abuser.
Women will go to jail. Abortion opponents swear up and down that they don’t want to punish women for abortion, they only want to punish doctors. Bullshit. Women in the US have already gone to jail for suspected illegal abortions (which were sometimes miscarriages). And women the world over are behind bars because authorities suspected that they terminated pregnancies illegally. When abortion is illegal, women go to jail.
Contraception access will be at risk. This draft Supreme Court opinion takes out Roe and claims to take out Roe alone, but Roe was decided on the same basis as Griswold v. Connecticut, the first case to liberalize state contraception laws. And it’s clear that many anti-abortion groups see some of the most popular and effective contraceptive methods, from the IUD to the pill, as “abortifacients” — that is, medications that they believe should be illegal as soon as abortion is outlawed. If Roe goes, the next step for the anti-abortion movement is a national law outlawing abortion. And trust that they will also be working hard to outlaw or seriously curtail access to the most effective methods of contraception.
Women will be less free. When you can’t control whether or not you have a child, you can control little else — your schooling, your work, your love life, your future. Even if you never have an abortion, a nation of less-free women is a worse-off nation; it is a nation in which fewer women reach their potential, make art, make new discoveries, break ground, run for office, meet the loves of their lives, give their children the devotion and welcome most parents want to offer. A nation without the freedom to choose is a nation with women who live smaller, more constrained, less free lives.
So what can we do? I wish I had a clear answer for you. This is a draft, not a final opinion, so there is still time for movement (although one worry, certainly, is that the leaked draft has now raised the cost of any justice — i.e. Kavanaugh — defecting from the radicals). One thing to do is raise hell. Don’t accept this as a done deal. Make loudly and unceasingly clear that this is not an end to the debate over abortion rights in the US, but the most polarizing possible response that has the potential to totally destroy the public’s confidence in the Supreme Court.
Make the stakes clear. Make them clear politically and in your personal life.
Abortion, for now, remains legal (if not easily accessible) in most of the United States. You can get abortion pills now, and they have a long shelf life, should you or someone you love need them. You can support the groups that are already working to deliver safe abortions to women in need, regardless of the procedure’s legality — should Roe go, those groups will be more important in the US than ever.
I wish I had more to say, or something more useful to say, other than: Stay angry. Stay in the fight. Give what you can to those who need help — and there are going to be a lot of people who need help. Don’t forgive, and don’t forget.
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