Tag Archives: Roe v. Wade

Be Careful What You Wish For

The Supreme Court–newly dominated by a conservative majority–has accepted an abortion case out of Mississippi. It is widely expected that the Court will use that case to further erode a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy–not explicitly overturning Roe v. Wade, but effectively eviscerating it.

Talking Points Memo considered the likely political effects of that decision, pointing out that, since the justices waited until the end of the current term to say that they would take it up, with a decision likely next June, it can hardly avoid being a front-burner issue in the 2022 election cycle.

Linda Greenhouse sees the decision to accept the case as the “end of the free ride” for anti-choice activists. She began that analysis by listing a number of situations in which state legislation curtailing abortion rights has been struck down by the courts, allowing “pro life” politicians to posture without incurring the electoral wrath of those who disagree.

Her recitation reminds me of a conversation I had with an Indiana legislator several years ago. He was in my graduate Law and Policy Class, and I knew he was aware of First Amendment precedents prohibiting state endorsement of religion, so when he voted to post the Ten Commandments on government buildings, I challenged him. His response was candid: he could vote the way the “folks in Mayberry” (his small town) wanted, keeping them happy, secure in the prospect that the courts would “bail him out.”

Abortion politics has taken a similar path.

Ever since the 2010 election ushered new Republican majorities into state legislatures, politicians there have been able to impose increasingly severe abortion restrictions without consequence, knowing that the lower courts would enjoin the laws before they took effect and save the people’s representatives from having to own their actions.

Greenhouse explains how the Court can effectively demolish Roe without actually and explicitly overruling it, and then considers the politics involved. Her analysis is worth quoting at some length:

It’s a dim memory, but a salient one, that in Mississippi itself, a voter referendum that would have amended the state Constitution to grant personhood status to a fertilized egg was defeated in 2011 by a margin of 58 to 41 percent, despite endorsement by leading politicians and widespread predictions that it would pass. That’s when the anti-abortion forces decided that friendly legislatures were a better bet than the will of the people.

Last fall, in each of four nationwide polls, including one conducted for Fox News, more than 60 percent of registered or likely voters said they did not want the Supreme Court to overturn “Roe v. Wade.” I put the case in quotes because that’s how the pollsters asked the question; although Roe obviously carries strong symbolic meaning, the 1973 decision is in many respects no longer the law.

The question as the polls’ respondents processed it was most likely “Do you want to keep the right to abortion?” And no wonder the answer was yes: nearly one American woman in four will have an abortion. (Catholic women get about one-quarter of all abortions, roughly in proportion to the Catholic share of the American population.) Decades of effort to drive abortion to the margins of medical practice have failed to dislodge it from the mainstream of women’s lives.

For the cynical game they have played with those lives, politicians have not paid a price. Now perhaps they will. Of course, women themselves will pay a heavy price as this new reality sorts itself out, particularly women with low incomes who now make up the majority of abortion patients.

And there’s another price to be paid as justices in the new majority turn to the mission they were selected for. The currency isn’t votes, but something even more important and harder to win back: the institutional legitimacy of the Supreme Court of the United States.

There’s no free ride for the court either.

What Greenhouse doesn’t address is the extent to which the GOP has depended upon both the energy of anti-abortion activists and the relative lack of political activism by pro-choice voters who have assumed that the courts will protect their rights. If Roe is either over-ruled or–as is more likely–eviscerated, it may well shift that dynamic to the detriment of “the folks in Mayberry” and the GOP.

 

 

Single-Issue Voters And The Courts

There are plenty of reasons to criticize the single-issue voters who are willing to put up with a mentally-ill, deeply-corrupt President if they think their votes will translate into the nomination and confirmation of “conservative” judges–defined as judges likely to overrule Roe v. Wade. 

Unfortunately, “conservative” judicial candidates able to pass the right’s litmus test aren’t just reliably anti-choice. Individuals who are willing to ignore stare decisis and the multiple complexities of women’s situations in order to criminalize the termination of pregnancy don’t approach that decision in a vacuum.

Scholars who have researched the differences between pro-life and pro-choice activists have concluded that both positions are elements of far more comprehensive world-views, some religious, some not.

Pro-life activism more often than not includes the belief that men and women are intrinsically different–and that, as a result of those differences (as one study has put it), men are best suited for the public world of work, while women are best suited to rearing children. These worldviews frequently include homophobia, and often a (selective) rejection of science.

Lawyers who argue that government has the right to decide such intimate matters for individual women are conservative only in the sense that they elevate “tradition” over the limitations that the Bill of Rights places on state power. They tend to see the United States as a “Christian nation,” and are thus willing to rule in accordance with the beliefs of (some) Christian denominations and to ignore the doctrines of denominations or religions that do not consider abortion or homosexuality sinful.

I do not think it overstates the case to assert that a significant number of the “conservative” lawyers being elevated to the federal bench aren’t simply anti-choice; they are anti-modernity.

I thought about the consequences of staffing the federal courts with people who define conservatism in this very narrow way when I saw news about a recent case involving the EPA.

In a victory for science and public health, a federal court determined that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cannot exclude scientists who have received EPA research grants—who happen to be mainly academic scientists from research universities—from serving on its advisory panels. The change, made by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, had a silencing effect on public health studies.

The court’s decision in the case, which was brought by NRDC in 2019, “affirms the role of science in protecting our environment and public health,” says Jon Devine, director of federal water policy for NRDC’s Nature Program. “This is a victory for basic truth and good governance.”

Pruitt claimed that his 2017 directive reduced bias on the EPA’s nearly two dozen advisory panels, which offer scientific expertise that then guide policy decisions on environmental pollutants, such as industrial chemicals or airborne particles from power plants. But unsurprisingly, Pruitt’s rule was not extended to scientists and consultants with ties to chemical or fossil fuel companies, allowing the agency to soon fill some open seats with industry insiders who disputed the known harm of pollutants, like ozone and PFOA.

Devine calls the now-debunked plan a “pernicious scheme to stack the deck in favor of big polluters by trying to shut out the voices of scientists—all to pump more pollution into our lives.”

The ruling was handed down by Judge Denise Cote for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, after several courts had tossed similar claims.

It’s safe to assume that Judge Cote was not a Trump appointee–NPR recently reported that 70% of Trump’s judicial appointments have been white men. (As of last August, he had not nominated a single African American or a single Latinx to the appellate courts.)

And speaking of terrifying world-views,

Dozens of those nominees have refused to answer whether they support the Supreme Court’s holding in Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 opinion that said racial segregation of public schools is unconstitutional.

I wonder how many of the people who voted for Trump because they oppose Roe v. Wade will be equally happy with the other decisions these “conservatives” will inevitably hand down?

 

 

Indiana’s Arrogant Legislature

Here we go again.

Indiana’s legislature–more accurately, its Republican Super-Majority (courtesy of gerrymandering)–has a habit of making decisions it is unequipped to make. In the past,  friends who are schoolteachers have seethed as lawmakers who never spent a day in a classroom prescribed the precise methods they should use to teach reading.

Now, lawmakers propose to tell medical doctors what methods they can and cannot use to terminate a pregnancy.

HB 1211 would ban the most common method used in second trimester abortions, usually called “D and E” for dilation and evacuation. The only alternative to D and E, which is generally considered the safest and most medically-appropriate way to terminate a second-trimester pregnancy, is induction, which requires a woman to go through labor. It must be done in a hospital-like setting, is far more expensive–and has a higher risk of complications than D and E.

Also, most hospitals don’t offer the procedure.

Now, you might be asking yourself, why would the sponsors and proponents of this bill think they–and not the woman’s medical doctor–should make this sort of decision? Why would they only allow second-trimester abortions to be performed using a procedure that is both more painful and more risky?

You know why. As Planned Parenthood points out, passage of HB 1211 would effectively end second trimester abortions in Indiana.

What is particularly ironic, previous legislative measures that have made it difficult for women to obtain safe, legal abortions are the reason for many of the delays that push the procedure into the second trimester: waiting periods, fewer clinics with longer waits for appointments and other barriers erected by lawmakers who want us to think they know more than medical professionals do, and who believe they are entitled to have their religious dogma become the law of the state.

Recent polls suggest that 70% of Americans want to keep Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. Thanks to the Electoral College, Donald Trump has been able to put right-wing judges on the Federal Bench, up to and including the Supreme Court, to ensure that the preferences of that significant majority won’t count for much. Until Roe goes, Indiana’s paternalistic legislature can’t ban abortions outright, but it continually tries to achieve that result by subterfuge. HB 1211 is just one example.

So let’s see: this bill would insert government between a woman and her doctor;  impose the religious beliefs of certain Christian denominations on nonbelievers and adherents of the many religions and denominations that allow abortion; and in the rare cases where a doctor and hospital are willing to use induction, subject the woman to unnecessary pain and an elevated risk of complications.

Nicely done, “Christian” warriors.

HB 1211 has been scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wed. March 27th at 9 am.

Sen. Randall Head is the chair of the committee and he has the power to stop this bill.

I hope everyone who finds this cynical measure appalling will call Senator Head and ask him to kill this travesty of a bill.

You might also remind him and other “limited government” Republicans –the guys who don’t think government belongs in their boardrooms–that government also doesn’t belong in a woman’s uterus.

The issue really isn’t abortion–it’s who gets to make the decision. And the answer  to that question shouldn’t be government.

 

Looking For My Inner Pollyanna–Roe v. Wade Edition

Along with all the other legal mayhem we can now expect from the most reactionary Supreme Court in over a century, most observers predict the demise of Roe v. Wade, despite polling that suggests most Americans would strongly disapprove.

If Roe is overruled, there will certainly be some horrendous consequences. But there may also be some unanticipated positives. Bear with me, here.

We have all recognized the intransigence of the “one issue” anti-choice voter. Without Roe, it’s conceivable (no pun intended) that the wind will go out of that sail. (It will be much more difficult to energize a national movement against birth control, which is actually a target of the most rabid anti-choice activists.) Anti-choice voters have been a mainstay of the GOP–and they will arguably be considerably less motivated.

If Roe is no longer the law of the land, the issue will revert to the states, and a number of states will opt for reproductive choice. Those of us who care about women’s autonomy will need to do some serious fundraising to make it possible for poor women in Red states to travel to states where abortion is legal, and that’s a pain. But even now, with abortion theoretically legal, there are many places in the U.S. where clinics are few and far between; women have to travel long distances, put up with bogus “counseling,” and deal with other barriers to the exercise of the currently constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

What the confirmation of Kavanaugh and the de-nationalization of Roe might do–should do–is redirect liberal and pro-choice energies from national to state-level political action. And that could be a huge game-changer.

The current dominance of the Republican Party doesn’t reflect the desires of the American majority–far from it. GOP numbers have been shrinking steadily; some 24% of voters self-identify as Republican. Their dominance is due primarily to the 2011 gerrymander, and that was made possible because they controlled a large number of state governments. The GOP vote suppression tactics that depressed Democratic turnout and disenfranchised Democratic voters have also been facilitated by state-level control.

The next redistricting will occur in 2021. Between now and then, women, Democrats, liberal-leaning Independents and new voters need to focus their efforts on statehouses around the country. We need to eliminate gerrymandering wherever possible, and we need to put an end to vote suppression tactics.

There will be other strategic decisions necessitated by a rogue Supreme Court. Lawsuits implicating civil rights and civil liberties, for example, may have better prospects in state courts interpreting state constitutions than in the federal system. (When the Supreme Court was less open to arguments from the LGBTQ community, the ACLU and Lambda Legal had some considerable successes in state courts.)

The next few years will be critical. Success will depend upon the “staying power” of those Americans for whom the 2016 election and the travesty of Kavanaugh’s confirmation have been wake-up calls. It’s one thing to post despairing messages to like-minded friends on social media; it’s another thing entirely to continue the day-to-day drudgery of organizing and registering our fellow citizens, and getting out the vote.

If we are going to reclaim the America we thought we had, however, anger and determination are great motivators.

“Repealing” Roe v. Wade

On 60 Minutes, Donald Trump evidently claimed that “repealing” Roe v. Wade would be a priority.

Among the many, many things our next President does not understand is how government actually works. He may be surprised to discover that Congress–even one dominated by GOP culture warriors–cannot “repeal” a Constitutional right.

That is not to say that Roe is safe, only that it will take several years and some fairly creative judicial legerdemain to completely reverse current case law.

Here is how it will play out.

Trump will have an immediate appointment to the Supreme Court, and may well have one or two others during a four-year term. He has pledged to appoint a social conservative, and that’s a pledge he’s likely to keep. Once a case implicating reproductive choice works its way up to the Supreme Court, that newly conservative Court will take the opportunity to further limit what previous Courts have confirmed: it is a woman’s constitutional right to control her own body. Perhaps the newly constituted Court will reverse Roe outright, perhaps not–but the effect will be the same.

Reversing Roe entirely would leave the legality of abortion up to the individual states. We would go back to the time–a time I vividly remember– when women who could afford to do so traveled to states where abortion was legal, and a significant number of the women who couldn’t afford to do that died in back-alley, illegal operations.

As my friends at Planned Parenthood like to point out, women didn’t begin getting abortions after Roe v. Wade. They just stopped dying from them. 

The only thing prochoice Americans can do to thwart this cynical and theocratic agenda is work tirelessly to prevent their state legislatures from passing new, restrictive measures that are intended to provide the Court with an opportunity to “revisit” the issue. (Here in Indiana, a State Representative has already announced his intention to submit a bill that would criminalize abortions and punish the women and doctors who participated in them. I’m sure theocrats in other states are equally eager to test the anticipated new boundaries.

Given the number of deep red states populated by religious fundamentalists, the odds of defeating all of these throwbacks aren’t good. So while Trump cannot “repeal” reproductive liberty, he can sure eliminate it.

I think the legal terminology is: we’re screwed.