How did we get here?

New York, NY (June 21, 2022) – This is a reflection of our young blog contributor, Cosmo Coen*, regarding the most recent Supreme Court’s decision about abortion and reproductive rights. This piece is connected to our work of implementation advancing #SDG3 (health equity) and #SDG5 (gender equality), and it can be used in our advocacy of raising awareness among youth at a local level as well as in our interaction with them at international forums. 

A sign is pictured during a reproductive rights rally in St Paul, Minnesota in 2019. | Lorie Shaull/Flickr
Thomson Reuters Foundation

As the headlines broke on June 24th of the recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, we all watched the court of public opinion do its dance throughout the arena of social media. In the hours and days following the ruling, the Internet bore the face of tremendous emotion; grief, terror, rage. A widespread panic set in as bodily autonomy was stripped away seemingly with a snap of a finger, precipitating protests and fundraising. A huge swath of America celebrated that day as well. A GOP congresswoman put it succinctly when she called the recent ruling a “victory for white life” just days after it was issued. At a time when it feels like we are experiencing major political watershed moments multiple times a year, it seems that we have hit another one. Red America and Blue America have never seemed so far apart.

But how did we let it get so bad? This panic and conviction that we see experienced by all concerned with their bodily autonomy is only tepidly mirrored in our representatives and government. As the Democratic Party has campaigned on a pro-choice, pro-Roe platform for years, Democrats all over the country are looking at their party pleading that they can’t just let this happen, and it unfortunately seems like they simply are. It’s visible in the fact that the public had more than a month’s advance notice of the ruling to come in Dobbs thanks to a leaked draft published in Politico in early May. We have seen angry tweets and impassioned speeches from politicians, but the damage has been done, and efforts to protect abortion rights on the federal level have been hesitant at best. The unease that has been felt by birthing people across the world in light of the draft ruling was not mirrored by any government policy in the time between the leak and the ruling.

A tense but stagnant political climate has been frustrating to inhabit, but is scary considering the moral atrophy that is displayed by the majority opinion of the Court in Dobbs. The fundamental holding in Roe v. Wade––that a woman has a right to “privacy” that includes the right to an abortion (with limits) guaranteed by the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment–– was reversed in Dobbs for some pretty appalling reasoning. The Court held that since the right to an abortion is not mentioned in the Constitution, the Due Process clause does not apply; abortion is not something that is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty”, and therefore not protected. The Court responds to a medical procedure as if it is a cultural phenomenon, as if to say that abortion simply does not (or should not) happen in America. The question of what rights are rooted in the nation’s history and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” has the potential to be used as potent ammunition against all sorts of civil rights cases. In a concurrence, Justice Clarence Thomas references this directly, calling for the Court to examine cases like Griswold v. Connecticut and Obergefell v. Hodges (the right to contraception and gay marriage, respectively). Interestingly, Thomas contradicts the majority ruling by seemingly claiming that all rights guaranteed by the Due Process clause are “demonstrably erroneous”, indicating the belief that only the rights explicitly mentioned in the original Constitution, a document of centuries, are protected at all. The right for a birthing person to control what they do with their own body has become peripheral; it has been deemed unimportant, not central to “ordered liberty”.

The aftermath of this ruling and the other bombshells dropped by the Supreme Court this season have precipitated some of the most powerful and vitriolic reactions in recent memory. The fervor that has taken hold of American society in wake of the ruling serves as a solemn reminder of the fragility of the institutions we place so much trust in. As nine people released their thoughts into the world, the lives of birthing people across the nation distinctly changed at that moment. The ruling has also illuminated the many social and ideological fractures that Americans live between, even within groups in which people broadly agree. Activist communities fighting for abortion rights are plagued with internal linguistic conflicts regarding to whom abortion rights apply; the use of the term birthing people as opposed to women has sparked much transphobic debate concerning the “validity” of trans people in relation to reproductive rights. It has been difficult for a movement to unite behind a message of bodily autonomy for all, and it’s hard for me to understand why. I don’t think we are completely directionless; we see the framework for comprehensive legislation that guarantees reproductive rights for all (under which trans healthcare is included) in measures signed in Pennsylvania by Governor Tom Wolf, for example. However, what good is this approach to abortion rights? Struggling and hesitating to bandage a haphazard, broken mess of a country? The effects of this ruling have already begun to show themselves and will continue to do so. As people take to the streets and the Internet and show Washington why the right to an abortion is indeed “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty”, birthing people across the country will suffer, with marginalized communities bearing an unfair weight as their bodily autonomy is stripped away from them. With this in mind, the fight for abortion rights must come with haste. This is a life-or-death situation, and the government owes it to us to treat it as such. It’s clear that Americans across the country do. Where’s Washington?

*Cosmo Coen is a graduate of New York City’s Stuyvesant High School and is currently a student at Brown University working towards two degrees in linguistics and media studies.

Copyright 2022 Transdiaspora Network

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