In the weeks since a draft of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—a case about a Mississippi law that bans abortion after fifteen weeks, with some health-related exceptions but none for rape or incest—was leaked, a slogan has been revived: “We won’t go back.” It has been chanted at marches, defiantly but also somewhat awkwardly, given that this is plainly an era of repression and regression, in which abortion rights are not the only rights disappearing. Now that the Supreme Court has issued its final decision, overturning Roe v. Wade and removing the constitutional right to abortion, insuring that abortion will become illegal or highly restricted in twenty states, the slogan sounds almost divorced from reality—an indication, perhaps, of how difficult it has become to comprehend the power and the right-wing extremism of the current Supreme Court.
Support for abortion has never been higher, with more than two-thirds of Americans in favor of retaining Roe, and fifty-seven per cent affirming a woman’s right to abortion for any reason. Even so, there are Republican officials who have made it clear that they will attempt to pass a federal ban on abortion if and when they control both chambers of Congress and the Presidency. Anyone who can get pregnant must now face the reality that half of the country is in the hands of legislators who believe that your personhood and autonomy are conditional—who believe that, if you are impregnated by another person, under any circumstance, you have a legal and moral duty to undergo pregnancy, delivery, and, in all likelihood, two decades or more of caregiving, no matter the permanent and potentially devastating consequences for your body, your heart, your mind, your family, your ability to put food on the table, your plans, your aspirations, your life.
“We won’t go back”—it’s an inadequate rallying cry, prompted only by events that belie its message. But it is true in at least one sense. The future that we now inhabit will not resemble the past before Roe, when women sought out illegal abortions and not infrequently found death. The principal danger now lies elsewhere, and arguably reaches further. We have entered an era not of unsafe abortion but of widespread state surveillance and criminalization—of pregnant women, certainly, but also of doctors and pharmacists and clinic staffers and volunteers and friends and family members, of anyone who comes into meaningful contact with a pregnancy that does not end in a healthy birth. Those who argue that this decision won’t actually change things much—an instinct you’ll find on both sides of the political divide—are blind to the ways in which state-level anti-abortion crusades have already turned pregnancy into punishment, and the ways in which the situation is poised to become much worse. [Continue reading…]