I was away when news of the U.S. Supreme Court leak went viral. I hadn’t watched TV for a week and barely signed onto social media but when I did, I read astute and deeply troubling reactions to the policy document designed to overturn Roe v. Wade, which has been considered established law for 50 years.
The document, drafted by conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, was supported by four of his court colleagues, revealing that a majority of the court concurred with ending women’s right to abortion. The timing of the leak was significant; it occurred when the court is scheduled to rule on the constitutionality of a Mississippi abortion law that prohibits abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
If the court finds that the Mississippi law stands, it will have sanctioned ending Roe v. Wade, allowing states to make their own laws regarding abortion. Some states have already established Draconian laws that include charging women with murder if they miscarry or have an abortion. Some have ruled that physicians who perform abortions can be charged with a felony crime and some have set up vigilante laws that could affect anyone who helps a woman get an abortion.
Essentially the demise of the constitutional right to abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy will end women’s right to abortion in over half the states in this country. The implications are huge, not only for American women but for the future of the country, and they are abundantly clear.
Many analysts and pundits have written cogently and urgently about the legal, physical, economic and emotional consequences for women and others in this country, and for all of us with respect to our civil and human rights. As a women’s health educator and advocate I am all too familiar with those consequences. I have heard women’s testimonials, read their memoirs, listened to their stories. I have helped them access abortion care and as a doula I have helped them give birth to much-wanted babies.
After the Alito document was revealed — and during the last confirmation hearings — I thought about the great legal minds of the past who had served on the Supreme Court, justices like Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Ruth Bader Ginsburg among them. Now I mourn what has become of that institution, where several judges lied under oath to Congress regarding precedent, and where many are willing to ignore the Constitution’s 4th amendment right of Americans to be “secure in their persons” and to “not be violated or subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures.”
It pains and frightens me that faulty — some might say puerile logic — superficial, antiquated, cliched justifications, overt sexism and religious ideology are blatantly on display. It is worth noting that seven of the current justices are Catholic and no Protestants are on the bench.
Couple that with the less than stellar records and legal experience of several justices, the alleged sexual harassment conduct of two justices, the conflict of interest on the part of a justice whose wife actively supported the Jan. 6 insurrection, along with the majority’s willing abrogation of civil and human rights and one can question where “liberty and justice for all” has gone.
How, I ask myself in these traumatic judgment days, has this largely trusted American institution so quickly deteriorated into depravity? How did its majority come to rely on bumper sticker taglines, social media tropes and arguments so weak and sloppy that they wouldn’t pass muster in a law school? Where has compassionate consideration in difficult matters gone? Why have context, untoward consequences and the reality of people’s lives disappeared?
The fact is the Supreme Court has become a political organization with its own dark agenda and its reputation will forever be tarnished, all because four men and one woman who should know better, appointed by a far right, self-serving autocrat, are now seated for life on the highest court in the land, along with several hundred inappropriate federal judges.
The price we’ll all pay for judicial travesties, individually and together, grows ever clearer and more threatening. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, many women’s lives will be destroyed. Precedent in other matters — gay and interracial marriage, LGBTQ rights and more — will no longer be valid, and revision of laws that wreak havoc because of ignorance and a taste for punishment will return.
It is no stretch to say that we will become an even more divided and dangerous nation, two-tiered and binary in ways that we can’t yet imagine. Violence is likely to flourish along with racism, antisemitism, sexism and increased marginalization. The elderly, young, disabled and mentally ill will suffer even more profoundly. Murder charges, incarcerations and suicides will become commonplace. Poverty will prevail for those in the 99 percent, while corporations and billionaires flourish. Family structures will be deeply and sadly impacted. The earth will be at risk sooner than predicted.
This is not solely about women’s rights, and it is not hyperbole. It’s a harbinger of what is to come because of laws we must live with, who makes and enforces those laws, who adjudicates disputes, what national priorities are established and by whom. It is about the future, which now is in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court — a court plunged into decline that endangers us all.
It’s a court that is beyond disappointing, a court with extraordinary power to shape our lives, and it grows ever more dangerous.
Elayne Clift writes about women, health, politics and social issues. More at elayne-clift.com.