A Chill Wind Blows

We all knew it was coming. Still, when the news broke, via a leaked draft opinion, that the Supreme Court has indicated its intention to overturn Roe, it hit like a sledgehammer. Initially I felt numb. The brutality and its implications were overwhelming. But the numbness quickly turned to anger, which I still feel as I write this. I can’t allow myself to succumb to despair. Anger is more energized and empowering. And it’s how I choose to show up for this.

The opinion is awful. It robs women of the fundamental right of autonomy over their own bodies, reversing what has been an established freedom for almost 50 years. It also erodes critical privacy protections, leading the way to more legislative terrorism, such as outlawing gay and/or interracial marriage, denying the rights of transgender citizens and banning contraception completely. While some of these threats may not come to fruition, the opinion provides the path. I have not read all 98-pages of the document, but two attorney friends have. They tell me that this draft majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, seethes with anger, disparages other jurists and uses flimsy citations from past court rulings to bolster its decision. And the opinion makes no exceptions for rape or incest. Let that sink in for a minute.

Overturning Roe is the product of a GOP long game that’s spanned decades. Through gerrymandering and voter suppression, they’ve been able to place foot soldiers in key political positions and to stack the courts with conservative judges. In some cases, such as Mitch McConnell with Merrick Garland, they’ve also successfully blocked the appointment of liberal or even moderate judges. The crescendo of the long game came with the presidency of Donald Trump and his appointment of three Supreme Court justices, all with dubious qualifications. The Supreme Court was positioned to do exactly what it is doing now.

Side note: The other day, my daughter and I had a rollicking conversation that included the question, “Who would you like to punch?” Mitch McConnell was on the top of my list, a position he’s held for many years.

I was 11 years-old when Roe became law. From a pretty early age – roughly 12 or 13, when I became aware of abortion and the circumstances that sometimes necessitate it – I understood that Roe was vulnerable. This was in large part due to my older sister Martha, a pro-choice proponent who educated me on the politics of abortion. She has dedicated 30 years to reproductive rights, working for the National Abortion Rights Action League and Planned Parenthood and, most recently, serving on the board of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Because of her influence, I’ve understood the looming threat to Roe. Most of my adult life, I’ve also fought for the cause through volunteering, protesting, donating and writing. Throughout the years, I’ve been threatened with violence at marches and harassed online. These, however, were passing menaces. When Martha worked at Planned Parenthood, I was perpetually concerned for her safety. Anti-choice zealots were a routine presence at her office. One Christmas morning, someone threw a Molotov cocktail on the roof of one of their clinics. If these experiences have taught me anything, it’s that the “pro-life” movement is not about the sanctity of life. It’s about controlling, degrading and threatening women.

The day after the SCOTUS opinion was leaked, I went to Westlake for a rally to defend Roe and to stand up for LGBTQ rights. It was organized by Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and the Seattle Democratic Socialists of America. When I first arrived, I burst into tears. The energy of the people was cathartic. I would guess there were a few hundred gathered. Given the gravity of the situation, I was disappointed by the turnout. Still, the verve of the crowd touched my heart. There were about half a dozen speakers. I heard a lot of things I agreed with and a few things that challenged me. (One remark – that Planned Parenthood saw this coming and “chose to do nothing” – was straight up bullshit.) Many of the speakers decried the Democratic Party. I share a lot of that frustration. In so many ways, the Dems have been feckless in this smackdown against the increasingly unhinged GOP. As Vu Le (Nonprofit AF) put it the other day, “the refrain of ‘when they go low, we go high’ has led to continual ineffectiveness.” Responding to the Roe crisis with a call for us to just vote blue again is off-putting to a lot of people. And I get it. Still, I don’t know that I’m ready to completely dismiss the Democratic party. God knows we need as many bodies as possible, and unfettered blame isn’t helpful at the moment. I observe two schools of thought right now. One is that we continue to fight within the current system, even though, as many would point out, it was never designed to work for everyone. The other thought is that we deconstruct the beast (capitalism) and build something better for the battle. I don’t have the answer. I believe several things can be true at the same time. What I do know is that we’d better fucking figure it out and fast.

Again, “pro-life” is not really about the sanctity of life. If it were, its rabid hierophants would be equally focused on policies that nurture and sustain life such as paid family leave, universal childcare, food justice, gun control and climate change mitigation. But we’re dealing with monsters here. Fueled by misogyny, evangelical Christianity and white nationalist rage, the agenda is to contain and destroy anyone who isn’t a straight white cisgender male. Women are always the first target, especially women of color. To rob us of our right to choose is to dictate how we’ll live and, quite possibly, die.

By the way, what about all the baby daddies out there? Why are they spared this terrorism?

Today, the Senate voted on the Women’s Health Care Protection Act, a bill to codify Roe. There weren’t enough votes to pass the bill, and they knew it going in. It was merely a symbolic measure. Maybe the strategy is to expose anti-choice members of the Senate and use it as leverage in the midterms. Whatever. The truth of the matter is that at present, we’re backed into a corner on this. For now, Roe is still the law of the land. However, many states have already put severe restrictions on access. And other states seem to be in a hot competition to see which can create the most draconian legislation possible. Louisiana is in the lead with a bill that would define abortion as homicide. It would also outlaw in-vitro fertilization and emergency contraception. The creativity of hatred is astonishing.

Should Roe get overturned, my hope is that pro-choice states could hold on to their sovereignty. At the very least, there would be safe havens for women needing these services, assuming they were residents or had the means to travel to said states. But a nationwide ban is a real and chilling possibility. And then what? For my part, I’ll be happy to break the law. I’m no longer of childbearing age but I will do anything in my power to help any pregnant woman who finds herself in this nightmare situation. I will aid and abet. I will defy. I will become a criminal. If they take away one woman’s autonomy, they’ve taken away the autonomy of all women. So, what in God’s name is there left to lose?

“For today, the women of this nation will retain the liberty to control their destinies.

But the signs are evident and very ominous, and a chill wind blows.” 

– Justice Harry A. Blackmun