Pro-choice activists demonstrate outside the Supreme Court on October 4, 2021, in Washington, D.C. A leaked draft of a ruling overturning Roe v. Wade has galvanized activists. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Sometimes, advocates should look to their opponents for inspiration.
The leaked U.S. Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade offers such an opportunity for pro-choice activists in Kansas and the United States. Emotions have run high as the land’s highest court appears ready to punt abortion rights back to the states.
But emotions don’t suffice when it comes to making long-lasting policy changes.
Those on the religious right have worked over the better part of five decades bringing this decision to fruition. They have spent time, money and innumerable volunteer hours electing anti-choice politicians, nurturing anti-choice judges and making sure that one of the nation’s two main political parties does whatever it can to please them. They have done so in the face of ridicule and disdain.
Those who believe passionately in abortion rights will similarly need to think long term. They will need to build a movement sturdy, motivated and well-funded enough to battle for decades to come. They cannot assume that a Supreme Court full of sympathetic justices will protect them, or that public opinion will always be on their side.
They will need patience and persistence in equal measure.
Will they be ready to sacrifice the way their opponents did? Will they be prepared to make painful choices for their cause? They shouldn’t be surprised when such moments arrive.
Or as historian Howard Zinn wrote on the ascension of John Roberts to the Supreme Court: “It would be naïve to depend on the Supreme Court to defend the rights of poor people, women, people of color, dissenters of all kinds. Those rights only come alive when citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel, and violate the law in order to uphold justice.”
At the state level
In Kansas, the state constitution offers strong protections for abortion care. The state’s high court specifically found that reproductive rights are protected by that founding document.
Abortion rights opponents have mobilized to place an amendment on the primary ballot Aug. 2 that would remove those protections from the Kansas Constitution. If Roe indeed falls, this “Value Them Both” amendment would allow our state’s legislators to pass any and all restrictions on abortion.
They could pass a total abortion ban without exceptions for rape or incest.
They could criminalize women who seek abortion and doctors who perform the procedure.
They could move to punish those who help women obtain abortions in other states.
These aren’t far-out hypotheticals. States throughout the nation have enacted near-complete bans on the procedure. If the Supreme Court’s draft opinion becomes law, abortion will become illegal or severely restricted in 26 states. Louisiana lawmakers just last week passed out of committee a bill that would categorize abortion as homicide — and also potentially criminalize in vitro fertilization and forms of birth control. Missouri lawmakers have tried to figure out how to prevent residents from getting abortions out of state.
Voters across Kansas will decide what comes next. Those supporting the amendment have worked for years. Those opposing it will be making their case over the next three months.
How things work (or don’t)
Progressives like to believe the world climbs along some invisible arc of social progress. They won arguments in the past, they think, so surely those wins will hold in the future.
Long-held precedents such as Roe v. Wade aren’t supposed to fall.
Women’s equality isn’t supposed to be a political bargaining chip.
But that’s what Kansas faces now. That’s what women face. That’s what anyone who can become pregnant or who knows a pregnant person faces. We’re all looking at a shifting, uncertain future. No one can predict all the outcomes, not for sure.
The final Supreme Court opinion in this case may well be different from the leaked draft. Perhaps Chief Justice John Roberts will persuade another justice to step away from the draft majority opinion. Perhaps he won’t. The justices may begin to overturn other bedrock civil rights cases. Maybe they won’t. We don’t know. After more than two years of a global pandemic and political turmoil, that feels deeply unsettling.
The anti-abortion movement has made sure that supporters understand and participate in our system. They have absorbed loss after loss over the decades and kept working toward their policy goal. The pro-choice majority covers more perspectives, has a mixture of views and sometimes casts doubt on the efficacy of the ballot box.
That means they could soon be governed by a smaller, more-motivated group. Emotions won’t change that. Well-crafted tweets, pointed columns or quotes from historians won’t change that. Scattered protests and calling lawmakers “to account” won’t change that.
Genuine, sustained political power will.
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