In a leaked draft by Justice Samuel Alito, the majority opinion of the Court declared that Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that protects a woman’s right to privacy to have an abortion, is to be overruled. If — or, the increasingly more likely option, when — Roe v. Wade (referred to as just Roe in conversation and this article) is overturned, federal protection of the right to an abortion will be revoked. Immediately following the leak, protests erupted and politicians began to vocalize plans of action, but the national mood amongst advocates for women’s reproductive rights was effectively crushed. It feels, to many, that all hope is lost.
The initial response to hearing such news is to play the “blame game.” For incensed people, this method can feel constructive, but there is often a tendency to put blame into the wrong hands. We can’t blame Susan Sarandon because of her opposition to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. We also can’t necessarily assign full blame to “pro-life” voters — they were not the final decision-makers when it came to overturning Roe. Assigning false accusations to make ourselves feel better in times of crisis is not effective and does nothing to inspire action. We must think clearly about who to blame, why and what we can do about it.
Although a controversial issue, the right to an abortion and the survival of Roe is widely favored by the American public. Recent polls show that 54% of Americans are in support of upholding Roe, and 70% believe that the decision to have an abortion should be at the will of a woman. Despite its polarizing nature, the subject of reproductive rights is surprisingly agreed upon by a majority of voters. With the understanding that most Americans are in support of abortion, it can come as a shock that the decision is being overturned. But, in reality, Roe and its guarantees have not been secure since its day of origin, even as opportunities to provide that security have emerged countless times in Congress and the Supreme Court.
On the campaign trail, President Joe Biden made a promise to codify Roe, an action that would enshrine the right to abortion into the federal legal code. On May 11, 2022, the Senate failed to pass a bill that would further protect the right to have an abortion by codifying Roe. It is not entirely correct to place the burden of blame on Biden — any executive action he could take to protect reproductive rights would be met with legal resistance from states opposed to abortion. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, though, can be assigned some criticism. Their “no” votes represented a noted opposition to abortion rights, but the failure of the bill could also be heavily attributed to the existence of the filibuster in the Senate.
Time after time, legislative measures have been taken to protect reproductive rights in the United States, including the Affordable Care Act’s coverage of certain contraceptives and this recent attempt by Senate Democrats. Despite various laws and faithful efforts, we must now understand that with the failure to codify this right, the only way to assuredly safeguard the right to choose is through the Supreme Court. The politicians we have voted into office may hold opinions or introduce policy, but the justices that they appoint wield the real power when it comes to the fate of abortion.
Although insulated from public opinion, the Supreme Court should bear the brunt of our outrage. In the assumed 5-4 decision, all three of former President Donald Trump’s appointed justices, along with Justices Alito and Clarence Thomas, voted to overturn Roe due to its “weak” reasoning. In their nomination hearings, Trump’s nominees considered Roe to be “precedent” and the “law of the land,” but in the end, they voted to topple this allegedly settled decision. It is the unstable word of these lofty lawmakers that determines the future of abortion in the United States, and their action — or lack thereof — defines the future of reproductive and women’s rights.
Late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is commonly noted by the left as an inspirational feminist from recent history. Nominated by former President Bill Clinton in 1993, Ginsburg was devoted to equality of the sexes, specifically in education and lessening the wage gap. She is often attributed a legacy of being “notorious,” but in reality, her refusal to retire during former President Barack Obama’s term was the final and most burdensome threat to the fate of abortion in the United States. We have to stop ourselves from thinking of her as the media icon she became, and more as the judge that she was. By retiring in or before 2014, Obama would have been able to nominate another liberal to take her place, which would have limited Trump’s opportunity to appoint three conservative justices in his term. Ginsburg would have protected her legacy and saved Roe with her retirement.
It feels good to place blame, but it only does us any good when it carries weight. Don’t blame the average voter for not voting or voting for the “wrong” people — blame those lawmakers that can’t so easily be held accountable, such as the unelected justices of the Supreme Court. They have the power to determine the fate of certain rights we hold close, their choices tied wholly to the word of the Constitution, not us or elected officials.
We have to be strategic in who we blame, and expressing outrage towards the Supreme Court is the way to go — it’s their empty promises and senses of pride that have cost American women the right to their bodies.
Lindsey Spencer is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.