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Saturday, July 2, 2022

A Loss of Freedoms on this Fourth

 "All rights that have no history stretching back to the mid-19th century are insecure."

-Dissenting justices, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization

Growing up, I never found my place on the ideological battleground between "pro-life" and "pro-choice." Raised Catholic, steeped in the lore of the virgin Mary whose portrait hung on the painted cinderblock walls of classroom where I had weekly religious education, I defined myself as someone who didn't think they would have an abortion (though how can we ever really know?) but would never enforce my opinions or religious principles on another person. 

So I was pro-choice but joined other marches (for immigrant rights, for child safety, for the environment) instead of the pro-choice rallies. I read a few articles about the potential for a conservative court to overturn Roe v. Wade, some of which suggested that women's rights would be safer in the hands of state legislatures, that using a Supreme Court decision as basis for freedoms was dangerous. I even managed to be hopeful that we could turn a prospective overturn to our advantage. I was slightly disengaged; I was optimistic.

I was wrong.

A friend told me yesterday that optimism and pessimism are on a continuum, and at either end of the spectrum they are both merely distractions from reality, which of course lies in the jumbled middle. My attempt at optimism was a flimsy shield against the reality, that women's rights have been rolled back over a half-century, and other rights around the issues of who we love, how we build our families, how we decide for ourselves, are greatly endangered now in the hands of a politicized Supreme Court majority. The conservative justices claim to be originalist, to hearken back to the founders' intentions as expressed through a document that is hundreds of years old, and which was created in a time when men owned their wives and human beings with black skin only "counted" as a fraction of a person. 

Jefferson himself said, "Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind as that becomes more developed. More enlightened, as new discoveries are made. New truths discovered and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances. Institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

In my reading last week I (much too late) became convinced that Roe and the succeeding case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), which established the right of women to choose to have an abortion before viability, were attempts by the court to balance the freedoms and right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of both the mother and the unborn. They were compromises, attempting to recognize the delicacy, the emotional complexity, of such an intimate decision. There have always been some restrictions on abortion, and two separate courts levied decisions that bolstered both restrictions and rights. But a half-century of tempered jurisprudence was thrown out in the Dobbs case, when no attempt was made to calculate the right to life and liberty of the mother. All of the rights go to the unborn child.

Abortion could soon be prohibited in half the states in our country. Tens of millions of women will be judged if they miscarry, will face criminal charges (against them and any friends or family who help them) if they seek an abortion even in cases of rape, incest, or dangers to their health. If they have a miscarriage they will be scrutinized, as will their doctors. That is a fact - it is already happening. 

The Supreme Court decided that it was acceptable for states to take away these options for women, to criminalize an act that was enshrined as a right ten days ago. The day before the Dobbs decision, the majority decided it was NOT acceptable for states to limit a citizen's ability to carry a gun - that right is now important enough to be embraced by the court and placed out of reach by the states, on the upper shelf of rights that somehow "made the cut."

I am heartbroken. This blog hovered in my mind and on my fingertips for much of the past week, but I couldn't bring myself to type, to put words down in black and white, admit my grief. In so many ways our country seems to go backwards, and we swim now across a dangerous current while sighting for a distant shore, not to advance the rights of women and others, but merely to grasp the sand in places we used to stand.

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