The imminent overturning of Roe v. Wade will return around half the states to a condition arguably even worse than pre-Roe (of “back-alley abortions”) because so deliberately plotted, a distinctly future reminiscent of the forced motherhood of the TV series “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Women will be arrested for getting an abortion in those states or for escaping to another state to get one, as women in “Handmaid” flee Gilead for Canada. A couple of states have laws encouraging bounty-hunting by letting citizens themselves keep the $10,000 fine for turning in a perp.
It is of course tremendously reassuring to know that when reproductive rights are no longer the law of the land, they will be protected in this enlightened neck of the woods.
However, the collateral damage of this strike against women is the alarming acceleration of the erosion of democracy, the de facto minority rule it embodies. That affects all states, all citizens. As would possible future rulings of the US Supreme Court on private life that could be foreshadowed by the removal of the Roe precedent, the overturning of precedents on same-sex or interracial marriage or even the right to birth control.
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If there is a ruling, consistent with the beliefs of a majority of the court, that human life starts at conception, abortion would become murder in all states, overruling protections in those states that have them.
Justice Alito, who wrote the leaked draft opinion, makes a big point of insisting that this reversal of precedent does not apply to other, related, private life precedents. But why should we believe him for a second when at least two of the recently appointed justices felt completely comfortable lying about Roe in their confirmation hearings, both acknowledging that it’s a long-established precedent and reassuring that they don’t break precedents.
Nobody believed them, of course, except for Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a purported pro-choice Republican, who is said to feel miffed that Kavanaugh’s and Gorsuch’s anti-Roe position is “completely inconsistent” with what they told her in confirmation hearings about Roe being settled law. Call it guilty naivete.
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The clutch of democracy is broken. There’s too much slippage between the will of the people and what the government ends up doing, what ends up happening.
The great majority of Americans have long supported Roe v. Wade. A recent CNN poll showed that only 30% want Roe overturned. And yet, apparently, it will be overturned by that same 2 to 1 margin in the Supreme Court.
The overturning of Roe will be just the latest and boldest instance of de facto minority rule. A substantial of Americans wanted Clinton and not Trump in 2016. The filibuster rule guarantees minority rule in the Senate. Most Americans want stricter gun control. Three-fourths of Americans, including 66% of Republicans, according to a Center for Public Integrity poll, want to revoke Citizens United’s permission for the very wealthy to exercise outsized power in elections.
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Will the majority allow itself once again to be dismissed and insulted by this egregious exercise of minority rule? Or will it, as one might think it would, have a big impact on midterm elections, in which smart money has been betting on a big Republican win.
How many women, of that two-thirds ignored in an overturning of Roe, will rethink their priorities and punish the party that has pushed this unpopular position? Won’t women in states without abortion rights vote in state officials that will turn that around? If they do, overcoming Republican efforts to suppress voting, it would restore some faith in majority rule democracy.
A recent story in this paper reports that Connecticut has gone beyond providing reproductive protections for its own citizens by passing a bill protecting women seeking asylum from their barbaric home states from being sued. They will play the role of Canada in “The Handmaid’s Tale” in welcoming refugees from the enforced motherhood of Gilead.
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According to the story, Connecticut is the only state so far to pass such a bill. Will Massachusetts follow suit? As a safe zone (at least so far), will we in the post-Roe era be operating an Underground Railway of another kind?
Brent Harold, a Cape Cod Times columnist and former English professor, lives in Wellfleet. Email him at [email protected].
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism