In an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court of the United States has reversed the decision on Roe vs. Wade after nearly fifty years. This move has been a long time coming, however, as many political conservatives and those on the Christian Right have since the 1980s made abortion the single issue on which to galvanize their movement, brilliantly masking the racist and sexist motivations behind it. They staked their entire political existence and dedicated millions of dollars to this effort, and it has finally come to fruition.
The move is unprecedented because never before has a fundamental right been granted to one generation of Americans only to be taken away from another. It has never happened before because a strict adherence to the democratic process, upon which this country is allegedly based, won’t allow it. Shouldn’t allow it. While it is politically possible, as we have seen, it is also a political impossibility in a society that is truly democratic.
And this should be our worry. Of the many things that are wrong with this reversal, and there are many things wrong with it, the primary one is the threat it poses to democracy. Historically, when governments start taking away fundamental rights, they never stop at one. Justice Clarence Thomas alluded to this when he recently suggested that Obergefell vs. Hodges — the ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in 2015 — should also be “reconsidered.” And there is no doubt that the Court will in fact do just that. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., a threat to one fundamental right in American life is a threat to all fundamental rights in American life. Injustice can only breed more injustice.
What the reversal of Roe vs. Wade effectively means is that abortion and access to abortion no longer has constitutional protection, making all unwanted or unplanned pregnancies “forced pregnancies” in most States in the country. The trickle down of this threat to democracy is that the rights of women to make decisions about their bodies has been undermined and their reproductive health compromised. Put simply, this reversal all but assures that women will die, as so many did in the years before Roe vs. Wade was made the law of the land.
The Court’s decision (more specifically, Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett’s decision) to overturn Roe vs. Wade caters to and plays upon the worst impulses of the American people. And it does not bode well for those in marginalized communities all across the United States, particularly those in LGBTQ+ communities.
GSS at Princeton stands in solidarity with those communities and with the millions of women, many of whom are poor women of color, who will be disproportionally adversely affected by this reversal. They are the most vulnerable, and it is for them that we must continue our work and condemn this unprecedented attack on democracy and the freedom of choice.
Wallace D. Best
Director, Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies
Hughes-Rogers Professor of Religion and African American Studies