Roe v. Wade Did Not Fall in a Day
In the United States, every Supreme Court session is a race to see which rights are up for grabs and which ones can be taken away. On Friday, June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court officially struck down Roe v. Wade— the law protecting the right to an abortion.
Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale has become an emblem of a world in which the reproductive rights of those with uteruses are under constant threat. Simultaneously, many see it as a warning — a warning that any rights, particularly the right to bodily autonomy for gender-marginalized people, are never safe. Rights are not the immovable, unchangeable entities they are presented to be. Atwood’s critically acclaimed work convinced many that a radical, religious coup was the only way to deprive people of their rights.
Dystopian novels have convinced many Millenial and Gen Z people that it would take some massive right-wing uprising for the United States to descend into a dark, fascist state. For many, the United States is a global safe haven with “checks and balances” that prevent tyranny: Biden was the forward swing on Trump’s backswing, a liberal Congress makes up for a dangerously conservative Supreme Court.
But after Roe v. Wade was overturned on Friday, we all woke up and everything was still in place. The United States had not fallen and no one was assassinated. The only change was that we no longer lived in a country where abortion rights were guaranteed. One of the most important rulings in US history had been overturned. No smoke. No fires. In the midst of this, two other major rulings were also made expanding gun rights in public spaces and limiting Miranda rights. We knew this was coming. As enraging and unbelievable as it may seem to some, many had prepared for this day.
An American courthouse building. (Credit: Ava Emilione)
Roe v. Wade began in 1970 Texas. Texas had been one of the many battlegrounds for civil rights in the mid-20th century. Six years prior, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had passed, prohibiting "discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” The 1960s and 70s were two major decades in securing an expansion of civil rights for marginalized Americans. From 1953 to 1969, Earl Warren served as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Warren Court was seen as one of the most liberal Supreme Courts in United States’ history, ruling over cases such as Brown v. Board of Education, Gideon v. Wainwright, and Baker v. Carr. The Warren Court was then followed by the Burger Court (1969 to 1986), headed by Chief Justice Warren Burger. Significant cases of this court include New York Times v. United States, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, and Roe v. Wade.
These rulings — along with others of the same time period — implemented important legal precedents that solidified the cultural shifts that were occurring. However, Supreme Court rulings are not laws. The Supreme Court only rules on the constitutionality of certain disputes. Meaning: they decide the constitutionality of the legislative act being contested. They rule to expand or limit the scope of a law or overturn it entirely if it is deemed unconstitutional. But they do not create laws: that power only belongs to Congress.
When Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, reproductive rights activists knew that it needed to be codified into law to truly ensure reproductive rights for people with uteruses. Sadly, it was never nationally codified. However, there were laws around abortion passed, one of the most significant being the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment—passed in 1976— banned the usage of federal funds through programs such as Medicaid for abortions, disproportionally affecting low-income people with uteri. Abortions funded by federal Medicaid funds dropped from approximately 300,000 per year to a few thousand in the year after the amendment was passed.
A New York Court building where the legendary Black Panther 21 were tried. (Credit: Ava Emilione)
Through all of this, the most important concept to understand is that Roe v. Wade could have been codified into law. In fact, it should have been. Since the ruling in 1973, there have been 10 United States presidents. Of the 10, four have been Democrats. Yet none of them made executive decisions or actively pushed to codify Roe v. Wade. Several of them had wide congressional majorities during their presidencies and there were still few attempts to codify it into law — the most notable example was during the first half of Barack Obama’s first term.
When former President Barack Obama ran for the first time, he ran on the promise of codifying Roe v. Wade into law via the Freedom of Choice Act. It was one of his most essential campaign promises. However, after his election, Obama quickly abandoned his campaign promises, prioritizing other matters such as bailing out the banks and deporting more people than Donald Trump. Obama was in a unique position: he had the ability to deliver on his campaign promises and drastically improve the lives of his constituents— particularly Black women who greatly benefit from access to abortions. Still, there was little deliverance on his promises.
President Joe Biden also promised to make Roe v. Wade the “law of the land.” Biden had one and half years to codify Roe v. Wade into law. Despite a House majority and a 50-50 Senate, he still failed to push any legislation that may have saved national abortion rights access.
While Democrats dragged their feet, Republicans and conservatives ramped up their bases and expanded their talking points. Much of the Democratic party’s tactics in the past 50 years have consisted of responding to and arguing with Republicans as if their opinions are factual, instead of taking practical action to protect the groups they claim to serve. In doing so, they validate and grant visibility to Republicans' asinine assertions. Many politicians are so worried about alienating certain blocs of white voters that they willingly isolate the most marginalized — and most loyal — within their base. The Democratic party’s history of pacifying and enabling the far-right has material consequences for oppressed people. The end of Roe v. Wade is only the most recent example of this, but it will not be the last.
(Credit: Jasmine LeCount-McClanahan)
Conservatives have pushed the notion of being embroiled in a culture war, declaring expansions of minority rights attacks against conservative ideals. Abortion is seen as a central issue in this “culture war.” Republicans gained attention and voters by spreading the idea that Democrats, as well as anyone who was politically "left," had declared war on “family values.” Much of this was simply coded language spreading white supremacist ideology. Beginning in the 1980s with the securing of the Evangelical vote, Republicans continue to recruit new, more extreme members into their ranks.
However, these “battles” were not only waged outside of abortion clinics and in church pews. Millennial and Gen-Z conservatives took the fight to the internet.
While the Internet is known for being a widely liberal space, the Internet was a primary ground for conservative expansion. The “alt-right” and “trad-wife” pipelines were created to indoctrinate young white people into internalizing conservative "culture war" talking points. They, too, were fed ideas about their futures being under attack. Forums such as Reddit and 4chan were ground-zero for these indoctrinations.
These ideas were not constrained to online spaces. The rise of white supremacist acts of domestic terrorism is largely attributed to the alt-right internet pipeline. Racist attacks as recent as the one in Buffalo, New York were directly connected to internet spaces where white supremacy was able to spread like mold. The 2014 Isla Vista attacks are an example of the intersection between white supremacy and misogyny. The killer, Elliot Rodgers, particularly hated women for not dating him as well as sexually active men and interracial couples. He killed six people. Before doing so, Rodger uploaded a video to YouTube titled "Elliot Rodger's Retribution" which outlined his planned attack and his motives. Rodgers was dubbed the “incel hero” and his attacks inspired copycats.
Former President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again'' was one that united white supremacists and gave them something to comfortably rally behind. The slogan was inspired by former president Ronald Reagan. It was a phrase he used repeatedly during his 1980 campaign. Octavia E. Butler’s 1998 novel Parable of the Talents featured a presidential candidate using the same slogan. Many credit Butler with predicting a candidate like Trump, but Butler has always been inspired by events that have already taken place. She paid attention to the signs and created truthful warnings out of her fictional pieces.
Octavia E. Butler (Credit: sojo.net)
Roe v. Wade did not get overturned in a day. This has been a process decades in the making, ever since the ruling was released. There was no violent uprising, no seizure of government buildings and no massacre of government officials. Such action was never necessary. Every single step happened in plain sight.
White supremacy no longer needs to wear a white hood and a white robe. They wear black gowns and hold gavels.
Urging people to vote is not enough, nor has voting initiated the institutional change that is desperately needed to undo these grievous ills. Voter turnout has been increasing, yet there is little to show for it. Elected Democrats are not doing their part, preferring to play it safe for re-election instead. Politicians such as Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden made people with uteri their sacrificial lamb as they have with every other marginalized group whom they promised to fight for. They wear Kente cloth and sing songs instead of writing laws and fighting against the intensifying white supremacist-flavored violence in America. They promise that the next election will be the one to save our democracy. One more $15 campaign contribution will allow them to finally solidify the rights they promised. This cycle repeats, every four years for the last sixty.
Above all, Roe v. Wade falling was not the first sign. Alarms bells should have rung when there was an increase in anti-trans legislation. Sirens should have set off when partisan gerrymandering increased and the Supreme Court ruled that gerrymandering could not be regulated by federal courts. Signals should have blared when migrant children were locked in cages at the southern border. Serious overhaul should have been carried out when the FBI released reports showing that police forces have been linked to white supremacist groups.
The end of Roe v. Wade is tragic and grim, but it is not an isolated event. The descent into fascism is steady-paced and facilitated by politicians masquerading as our protectors.
Edited by: Ava Emilione
Cover Photo Credit: Jasmine LeCount-McClanahan