In the 49 years since the United States Supreme Court established a constitutional right to abortion, the experience of being a woman in this country has been transformed.
Access to birth control has expanded, and more women have entered the workforce, pursued higher education, won protections from dismissal for becoming pregnant, and become breadwinners. Through it all, abortion has remained one of the nation’s thorniest issues. While support for legal abortion has remained virtually unchanged — about 60% of Americans believe it should be legal in most or all cases — so has opposition to the procedure. Since the early 1970s, activists and lawmakers who believe abortion is immoral have fought a long and careful battle in state legislatures and courts in hopes that one day the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade.
On May 2, it seemed that day was imminent. A draft notice disclosed on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case directly challenging the existing precedent, showed that the majority of the judges were on the verge of overturning deer in its entirety. The news fell like a bomb. Within hours, protesters on both sides of the debate gathered outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, dancing in triumph or shaking with rage. Pastors declared victory, politicians rushed to stake posts and lawyers raced to understand the extraordinary implications of the draft text, pointing to a list of other constitutional rights suddenly threatened, including access to birth control and the possibility of marrying the person of your choice. , regardless of gender or race.
While the opinion leaked to Politico may well change before a final version is released, likely in June, its mere existence has reshaped American politics in an instant, upending midterm races and political agendas, and refuting any argument to overthrow deer would only affect a small number of people in conservative states. The fierce and immediate political fallout made it clear that any Supreme Court decision changing the precedent that deer together will affect us all.
Activists rally outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the abortion clinic in Jackson, Mississippi at the center of the Supreme Court case
Rogelio V. Solis—AP
For many liberals, the project marked the worst-case scenario, the doomsday outcome they had been warning about for years. “It’s devastating, but it’s also a critical wake-up call,” Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told reporters. The day after the project was released, NARAL saw a 1,403% increase in donations. Planned Parenthood reported a 650% increase in donations and engagement. Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue raised $12 million within 24 hours of posting the draft, and the Abortion Care Network, which supports independent abortion clinics nationwide, raised $250. $000 in the first three days after the leak to more than 12,000 donors, about 95% of which were new. Abortion providers also reported a flood of patients seeking birth control appointments, hoping to stock up on emergency contraception or asking to proactively order abortion pills. Only 16 states and Washington, DC, have laws on their books that explicitly protect abortion rights, should deer ceases to be the law of the land.
For the Conservatives, the draft decision was cause for celebration. “If this is the opinion of the Court, it will be one of the greatest opinions in the history of the Supreme Court. This will save millions of lives,” Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri tweeted on May 3. The project was seen as a validation of the Conservatives’ strategy and their core belief that deer was ill-decided and that the only way to fix that mistake was to deliver the Tories to the highest court. On social media, faith leaders thanked former President Donald Trump, whose three Supreme Court nominations helped bring this moment to fruition. If the court’s final opinion is similar to the leaked draft, 13 states with “trigger laws” will ban abortion almost immediately; at least 10 more are likely to implement abortion bans or restrictions shortly thereafter.
Read more: After Supreme Court Leak, Republican-Led States Ready to Legislate to Ban or Criminalize Abortion
In the days after the draft was released, many National Republicans focused on condemning the leak rather than the substance of the draft, as political strategists debated the political risk of opposing a proceeding that the majority of Americans support it in one form or another. A leaked memo from the National Republican Senate Committee advised the candidates that “our position should be based on compassion and reason”, and emphasized that “Republicans DO NOT want to throw doctors and women in jail”. But at the same time, some GOP members of Congress have also proposed passing a nationwide ban on abortion.
The real action has been in the United States, where Republican lawmakers have rushed to ban abortion, impose criminal penalties for abortions and consider defining life as beginning at conception, a move that has implications major for everything from miscarriages to birth control like intrauterine devices (IUDs) to the so-called morning-after pill. “No compromise, no more waiting,” said Brian Gunter, a pastor who helped draft a bill in Louisiana classifying abortion as homicide. In Georgia, state Rep. Ed Setzler, who sponsored an abortion ban in 2019, applauded his colleagues’ ambitions. “I think maybe we’re getting to a point where we recognize that the deep brutality of Roe v. Wade,“, he told TIME, “maybe it is coming to an end”.
Supporters of the Abortion Access Front before a protest in Manhattan on May 3, the day after the release of an early draft of the Supreme Court’s opinion
Caitlin Ochs—The New York Times/Redux
For the average American who isn’t attuned to the nuances of state and federal political battles, the leak has mostly produced a cloud of confusion. Abortion rights advocates rushed to reassure patients, while simultaneously spreading information about what might come next. If the Supreme Court does in fact overturn Deer, many expect that abortion pills, which can be prescribed via telehealth and sent by mail, will become the next arena of legal and legislative warfare. Others point to the likelihood of the nation being split in two, with Democratic-led states seeing an influx of out-of-state patients seeking abortions within their borders. Several Democratic state legislatures have taken action to protect out-of-state providers and patients, and to allocate funds to help pay for their care. Katie Quinonez, executive director of West Virginia’s only abortion clinic, says if her state makes the procedure illegal, she and her staff will help more patients get to Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.
Read more: Republican states clamp down on access to abortion pills as Supreme Court ruling looms
In the age of the Internet, we are unlikely to return to clandestine abortions of pre-deer time, but that, Quinonez says, is not the same as having access to legal care. Many potential patients in places where abortion is illegal will likely have difficulty getting time off work, finding transportation, or arranging childcare for abortions. Studies show that people who are denied abortion have poorer mental health, more physical health problems including pregnancy-related deaths, higher rates of poverty and debt, and less financial security . Most people who seek an abortion already have at least one child. The United States, which has the highest maternal mortality rate of any wealthy country, is also unique among its peers in that it does not provide robust, publicly funded child care, paid family leave or other forms of parental support.
As the country, overwhelmed by uncertainty, awaits the Court’s final decision, one thing is now clear. The United States is on the cusp of a monumental shift in which issues surrounding women’s autonomy, privacy, and the role of government in the health of its citizens will become central to our lives and our politics. The judges’ final decision will shape not only reproductive rights, but also the health care system, criminal justice, labor force participation, and what it means to start a family in America.
—With report by Nik Popli/Washington
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