Met a friend on Friday in Downtown Oak Park and asked, “How are you?”
“I’m a woman,” she replied.
Nothing more needed to be said … except to commiserate. And this is definitely a commiserable moment in America.
No one can predict how overturning Roe v. Wade will play out if that happens as expected this June, but I won’t be surprised if it turns out to be the worst thing that ever happened — for those who oppose reproductive rights — and the best thing that ever happened — for those who support reproductive rights.
When the anti-abortion movement finally gets what it has wanted for almost 50 years, following what promises to be the worst Supreme Court decision since Dred Scott, the anti-abortion movement will proclaim an epic victory and the pro-choice side will grieve a devastating defeat.
But I’m not so sure.
Several caveats spring to mind: Be careful what you wish for. Beware of unintended consequences. Don’t end up on the wrong side of history.
Pick your poison.
At the very least, this is not a smart political move (and the conservative-dominated Supreme Court is all about politics). Polling indicates that the majority of Americans support reproductive rights, including legal abortion in the first trimester, and have consistently said so for half a century.
Opposing the will of the public always comes back to bite you politically in the long run. Overturning Roe will take us backward in the short term, but this country doesn’t have a reverse gear. It won’t stay that way for long.
The half-century stalemate that Roe v. Wade produced was never going to be resolved. It is the primary cause of this country’s deep polarization. Though it may not be much consolation to those mourning this decision, overturning Roe v. Wade breaks that logjam. It allows, at long last, something else to happen. We don’t know what that something will be — and it won’t all be good — but I believe something positive will come of it, something better than the current, stagnant status quo.
To be sure, this miscarriage of justice will cause considerable suffering and hardship, especially for the poor, but it may also produce a fundamental shift politically, as it finally hits home how damaging Republican extremism is for the average American. And as Donald Trump found out the hard way, pissing off the majority of American women is not a prescription for electoral success.
At the very least, the Republican Party will lose its most motivating issue. Roe v. Wade will no longer be around to unite their coalition. The main reason Republicans have been able to stay competitive the last 50 years was their ability to divide the country through Roe v. Wade. No matter how much Republicans jerry-rig the current voting system, they won’t be able to maintain their advantage for long without Roe.
For the past half-century, the anti-abortion side has been playing aggressive offense and the reproductive-rights side has been on the defensive — and losing ground. With the end of Roe v. Wade, pro-choice will now be on the offensive and will probably find creative ways to make abortion services more accessible. Meanwhile, medication abortions (i.e. the pill) should become more readily available, eventually replacing the invasive procedures. When the majority of Americans want something, they usually find a way to get it, and Americans want safe, legal abortion.
My take on the abortion issue is more unconventional. I think both sides are right and both sides are wrong (for different reasons), and that’s why we’ve been in this stalemate so long. Each side sees only where the other side is wrong and only where their side is right, so they can’t compromise. I’ve long thought numbers were the key to this conundrum. Reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and you reduce the demand for abortions. With readily available contraception before and the pill after, the number of surgical abortions should plummet and this issue will largely resolve itself. But that can only happen in a post-Roe world.
The Right has the upper hand for now. By stealing a Supreme Court nomination in 2016 (Mitch McConnell’s darkest hour), combined with an electoral-college presidential victory (despite losing the popular vote), the Republicans were able to engineer a Supreme Court supermajority that made overturning Roe v. Wade possible.
Their ill-gotten triumph will be short-lived. My hunch is this decision will be the beginning of the end of our long, exhausting, debilitating culture war, and without Roe v. Wade, this country will start to emerge from its extreme polarization. When it does, I believe reproductive rights will prevail because Americans have consistently favored safe, legal abortion for the first trimester of pregnancy, with exceptions in the second trimester, and exceedingly rare allowances in the third, just as it is now.
It won’t be easy, but a post-Roe world could be a better world for reproductive rights.
Overturning Roe v. Wade, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, offers an opportunity for women, and the rest of us, to finally move forward.