Being braced for something and being ready for it aren’t the same. The reversal of Roe v. Wade is a case in point.
When Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to the Supreme Court, I saw the writing on the wall. When Justice Brett Kavanaugh followed him, that writing was neon. And Justice Amy Coney Barrett? We’d entered foregone-conclusion territory. It was only a matter of time.
Now, it seems, the time has come.
And I’m really, really scared.
That’s not just because the banning of most abortions in whole swaths of the United States, which is sure to happen if Roe is indeed reversed, constitutes awful policy. I’m also scared — terrified, really — because the circumstances of this leap backward bode disastrously for the country. I haven’t the space to exhaust the reasons. I’ll highlight four, in no particular order.
The Supreme Court’s stature has been profoundly and perhaps irrevocably diminished.
Only a fool would maintain that the court, in past decades, wasn’t a political institution. Only a bigger fool would deny that it has descended to new depths in this regard.
The extraordinary leaking of the draft of a majority decision was both an example of and a metaphor for that. We don’t know who leaked it, but we know that there was a purpose, and that purpose can’t have been anything other than political. It was gamesmanship. It was underhanded. And the court was supposed to be above that.
Yes, yes, “supposed” is the operative word. But “supposed” has real import. Ideals matter, even if they’re part myth. They set a bar. They establish some parameters. And there are no parameters anymore — not at the court and not in American political and civic life. Nothing is sacred.
At this point the court is part ideological chessboard, part theater of insincerity. In their confirmation hearings, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett said what they had to say so that they could then do what they wanted to do. “Precedent” was lip service.
And if a leak like this was once unimaginable, well, so was a Supreme Court justice’s wife secretly urging a senior White House official to invalidate the results of a presidential election and, in effect, facilitate a coup. Scratch “theater of insincerity.” Consider “theater of the absurd.”
Overturning Roe will exacerbate an egregious divide.
The gap between economically advantaged and disadvantaged Americans is wide to the extreme of near unsustainability. This will make matters even worse.
Projections of how many states will ban most abortions run as high as nearly half of them. That won’t stop women with means from having the procedure; they’ll just travel to places where it’s still available. Women without means will rely on uncertain aid from organizations that may or may not have adequate resources. They’ll jump through extra hoops. Or their unplanned pregnancies will lead to unplanned families.
When that happens, will all of the judges, politicians and other Americans who have fought against abortion rights be there to offer social and financial support? It’s a rhetorical question.
We’re returning further into minority rule.
There’s a difference between having moral qualms with abortion and wanting it banned, and poll after poll shows that most Americans don’t want it banned. A survey conducted just last week by The Washington Post and ABC News found that, according to an article published on Tuesday in The Post, “54 percent of Americans think the 1973 Roe decision should be upheld while 28 percent believe it should be overturned” — a ratio of roughly two to one.
So the Supreme Court doesn’t reflect most Americans’ beliefs. There’s a potent argument that it needn’t or even shouldn’t, but that doesn’t change its pronounced imbalance of six conservatives and three liberals. A Republican president who didn’t even come close to winning the popular vote got to appoint three of the nine justices, one because the Republican majority leader of the Senate redefined obstructionism by denying a second-term Democratic president who did win the popular vote (twice) what should have been his final appointment.
Oh, and Republicans had the Senate majority at least in part because the composition of the chamber favors rural areas in which Republicans now hold sway, not because they were and are in such exquisite sync with most Americans.
Some of what I’ve described is quirk. Some is flawed. But the sum is a reality in which many Americans feel increasingly — and dangerously — disenfranchised.
We were already on the edge. This could push us over.
Many Americans right now are feeling not only disenfranchised but also betrayed. Nearly a half-century of the status quo could be going out the window, just like that.
I understand that many other Americans deplored that status quo — and felt betrayed by it. But a sudden change in longstanding rules is exponentially more disruptive than their perpetuation. And, I’d wager, it’s exponentially more enraging, especially (see above) if it feels like the tyranny of the minority.
We’re already at peak polarization and fury: The Trump presidency was a ceaseless melodrama punctuated by two impeachments and the storming of the Capitol. That was all before this Roe development. I shudder to imagine the recriminations—and the rage—after.