After the celebration and grief comes the chaos of a nation split by bitter political divides that now determine where women can access abortion.
The Supreme Court’s landmark decision on Friday to overturn the near 50-year constitutional right for a woman to end a pregnancy is triggering aftershocks that have already begun to change the character of American life.
The realization is dawning that a daring conservative Supreme Court majority has, with its willingness to trample long-held precedent, introduced a destabilizing dynamic that may go far beyond abortion in a nation already internally estranged by ideology.
More practically, and suddenly, abortion services have already ended in some conservative states. In some places on Friday, women in clinics were told as soon as the Supreme Court decision came down that their chance of an abortion in the state was gone.
• Wisconsin has reverted to a 19th century law banning abortion.
• South Dakota’s last abortion clinic is preparing to move to Minnesota.
• Other red states are expected to act within days.
More liberal states like California are vowing to serve as havens for women, setting up inter-state clashes that will further balkanize America.
Fear is growing among progressives over what the court will do next. At nationwide Pride parades this weekend, the aching question was whether the hard-won right to same-sex marriage, enshrined by the court just seven years ago, is now at risk from activist justices. Uncertainty is growing about how the ruling will affect fertility treatments and even contraception. And businesses are hurriedly working out plans to compensate employees or extend health insurance to cover out-of-state abortion services but also worrying about alienating leaders in red states spoiling for a fight.
Abortion is a deeply personal issue for people of all political beliefs. Many conservatives view the procedure as the murder of an unborn child. Many other Americans view the Supreme Court’s move as a callous infringement on human rights, namely a woman’s ability to make choices about her own body. Public opinion is often more nuanced than the black-and-white certainties of the political debate, especially over at what point of a pregnancy abortion should be allowed and what exceptions should be made for rape, incest or the health of the mother, but the reality remains that a clear majority of the country did not want to see the court overturn Roe.
The core rationale of the court’s conservative majority on Friday was that by returning the issue to the states, it would enable a democratic resolution of a contentious national issue. The last three days suggest that position was either naïve or willfully self-deceiving.
Republican leaders are already grappling, and in many cases, failing, to come up with answers about how and if they will help new mothers, whom they will force to bear children they may not want, even in some cases after rape and incest.
Across at least half of the United States, the Supreme Court’s ruling promised new hardship for poor and minority Americans who in many cases cannot afford to travel to have an abortion or are already hurt by insufficient social services.
Leading Democrats responded with strong words and vows to fight back but have yet to mount an effective response, either politically ahead of 2022 or practically on the ground, where millions of women are suddenly left without their rights.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said the court has “set a torch” to its legitimacy. And New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who accused conservative justices of lying in their Senate confirmation hearings about how they would rule on abortion, said impeachment should be on the table.
But as President Joe Biden left Saturday for the G7 summit of industrialized nations in Germany, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said he was sticking by his opposition to expanding the court and to eliminating the Senate filibuster. While the latter move would be needed to codify the right to abortion – it’s unlikely all Democrats in the Senate would go along with abolishing the 60-vote threshold. This new evidence of the gap between Biden and progressives may fuel fresh speculation about his standing in his party as he prepares to run for reelection.
Republicans celebrate – but face new scrutiny
But after a stunning conservative victory that electrified the GOP base, Republicans hoping to widen their national appeal must also consider how to position themselves in ways that won’t alienate moderate and some women voters amid complex and nuanced attitudes toward abortion.
Former President Donald Trump was basking in the credit that he is due for installing a radical conservative majority on the Supreme Court. As a rally crowd in Illinois chanted “Thank you Trump” on Saturday night, the ex-commander-in-chief proclaimed a “victory for life.” Privately though, Trump was worried about the impact of the upheaval on his 2024 White House hopes and Republicans, The New York Times reported.
Whatever the merits of the court’s hotly debated recent decisions on guns and religion’s place in society, its overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision revealed a stark reality about the newly authoritarian GOP. The party’s most prominent figure – Trump – sought to deny voters their most fundamental right to choose their leader with his lies and coup attempt after the 2020 election. Then the Supreme Court majority that he built – alongside Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell’s questionable confirmation maneuverings – removed a constitutional right from Americans for the first time in history, flagrantly disregarding majority opinion. This confluence of radicalism will have huge implications for US democracy in the years to come.
For decades, the battle to end abortion has been a central rallying issue of GOP politics. But now it’s suddenly also become a governing challenge.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, for instance, on Sunday dodged questions on CBS’s “Face the Nation” over whether she would offer paid leave to expectant mothers deprived of abortions, expand health care and how the state would enforce her opposition to the use of abortion pills mailed from other states.
“We will make sure that mothers have the resources, protection and medical care that they need. And we’re being aggressive on that,” she said before pivoting to an unrelated attack on Biden in an interview long on platitudes but short on specifics.
Democrats search for a response
The Democratic response to Friday’s Supreme Court decision has so far been a mix of disbelief, anger and promises to not give up the fight, but so far, no clear strategy.
A CBS News/YouGov poll conducted Friday and Saturday found that 59% of Americans disapprove of the Supreme Court’s decision. That ought to give Democrats a solid foundation to turn the midterm elections and the 2024 presidential race into a referendum on the Supreme Court. But high inflation and record gasoline prices threaten to doom the party’s majorities in Congress regardless.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams pointed to a Georgia law due to come into force within days that bans abortion at six weeks, as she sought to weaponize the issue against her Republican opponent and the current governor in one of the marquee midterm races.
“I would tell anyone, whether you’re a business or a citizen thinking about being in Georgia, to take into very real consideration the danger that Brian Kemp poses to the life and welfare of women in this state,” Abrams told Jake Tapper.
Speaking on ABC News’ “This Week,” Warren said the court had undermined its own legitimacy.
“They just took the last of it and set a torch to it with the Roe v. Wade opinion,” the Massachusetts Democrat said, calling for more justices to be added to the court.
A court does not lose legitimacy simply because it delivers opinions particular politicians may not agree with. And conservative scholars would argue that the majority’s recent rulings are justified by constitutional arguments. But the controversial construction of the right-wing majority – after McConnell paved the way for Friday’s ruling by blocking ex-President Barack Obama’s nominee in an election year and rushing Trump’s final nominee onto the court in the same circumstances – has no doubt tarnished its image. As has the fact that several senators now say they were misled by Trump nominees about how they would adjudicate abortion cases.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York suggested that Trump Supreme Court picks should be impeached for “lying under oath” about their positions on abortion. But even if the Democratic-led House pursued such a long-shot strategy, it’s inconceivable there would be a two-thirds majority to convict in the closely divided Senate.
But a new week could bring new decisions that underline the radicalism of the Supreme Court majority. Already, it used its opinion in the abortion case to almost mock critics who warn it should consider the impact of its literal reading of the Constitution, written in the 18th century, on 21st century society.