In a historic decision to reverse reproductive rights set in place for nearly half a century, on June 24, the Supreme Court ruled to eliminate a woman’s constitutional right to abortion. Since then, nearly one in three American women, over 20 million, have lost access to safe abortions. This number continues to rise as state courts set “trigger laws,” into place (laws designed to ban abortions before Roe v. Wade was overturned).
The magnitude of this ruling cannot be understated. This decision goes against the will of the majority, with over 61% of Americans defining themselves as pro-choice, according to the Pew Research Center, and nearly 85% believing that abortion should be legal “at least in some circumstances.”
Mass confusion has swept the country as we try to understand exactly what this means. For example, would emergency contraceptives be banned? According to NBC News, in Louisiana, legislation “would classify abortion as a homicide and define ‘personhood’ as beginning from the moment of fertilization. Contraception methods like Plan B and certain types of intrauterine devices, or IUDs, could be restricted under the bill.” Fears over the criminalization of abortion are another concern, as it would see both patients and medical providers prosecuted, regardless of cases of rape or incest, thanks to one of the archaic “trigger laws” in Texas, which was passed in 1925.
According to the Marshall Project, the Dobbs decision has also been incredibly harmful to patients seeking non-abortion healthcare, for example the methotrexate prescription used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders has been halted, as it can also be used to terminate ectopic pregnancies.
The Dobbs vs. Jackson Women Health Organization ruling has opened a pandora’s box of judicial issues, and each argument restricting abortion or attempting to define “life,” only triggers a list of contingencies that are near impossible to tackle.
Reproductive rights remain one of our nation’s most polarizing issues, and the bipartisan divide in our country has arguably reached an all-time high in light of this recent decision. Many believe the Supreme Court is unrepresentative of our nation’s views, as seven out of nine justices were appointed by the party which hasn’t won the popular vote in over 30 years. As Zeeshan Aleem, a reporter for MSNBC news put it, “Increasing numbers of people are sensing that our crisis is bigger than any one terrible policy. The public is now fully in the throes of questioning American political institutions and the capacity for people to pursue the good life in a country that makes democratic governance immensely difficult.”
This monumental case has been met with apathy rather than action from the Democratic party. Shortly after the ruling was announced, Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez published a scathing Twitter thread, sharing her thoughts on the Democratic party’s inaction, “The President and the Dem[ocrat] leaders can no longer get away with familiar tactics of ‘committees’ and ‘studies’ to avoid tackling our crises head-on anymore.” Ocasio-Cortez also criticized the court’s overreach. “Compared to the Exec[utive] and Leg[islative] branch, checks on Court overreach and misconduct are little to none. Leaders must share their plans for Roe AND a rogue court.” Many progressive candidates have suggested several measures to take effective action, which would assure access to safe abortions, including restraining judicial review, expanding federal access to abortion pills and opening clinics on federal lands. With midterm elections approaching in November, both Republicans and Democrats are desperate for seats in Congress, which will impact how President Joe Biden will be able to govern in the second half of his term.
Republicans were optimistic about their chances to take back the House and Senate earlier this year, with record-breaking inflation and extremely low approval ratings for Biden (as low as 36% according to a May poll). However, the recent ruling has completely changed these elections, energizing left-leaning voters and suggesting a higher voter turnout.
According to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, over half of U.S. voters say abortion “is a ‘very important’ issue to consider when deciding how they will vote in November’s midterms” and 54% of voters said, “the demise of Roe has made them ‘more likely’ to consider a candidate’s stance on abortion.”
With the issue of abortion weighing so heavily on voters, both parties have changed their campaigns in a bid to appeal to the public. According to The New York Times, at least ten republican candidates have scrubbed or modified previous statements on abortion to take a softer stance. Meanwhile, Democrats are turning reproductive rights into the central issue of the midterms, distracting from concerns over inflation and immigration. However, they have also faced criticism from the more progressive public, who believe they have not done enough for the cause, rather they continue to gain votes from false promises without completion.
Going against the will of the majority of the country, the Supreme Court has made our democratic government start to feel quite the opposite. As Representative Ocasio-Cortez said, “The ruling is Roe, but the crisis is democracy. Leaders must share specific plans for both.” It’s likely that as we enter the next few months, waiting patiently for further news and viewing the results of the midterms, confusion will begin to settle and anger will take its place.
Millions of women have lost bodily autonomy, miscarriages could potentially be investigated as crimes, and victims of rape are forced to carry to term. Politicians must be held responsible for executing effective action rather than using human lives as campaign points in a bid to get reelected. The stakes have never been higher.