This week the Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — the case that will determine the fate of Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, and more broadly, the fate of Roe v. Wade. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, or the “Pink House,” due to its color, is the only abortion clinic left standing in Mississippi. Commentators have widely predicted that the Dobbs decision, which is expected to be announced in June or July, will ultimately overturn Roe v. Wade — the 1973 case that legalized abortion in the United States up to at least fetal viability, around 23 to 24 weeks — or revising it to leave abortion laws up to states to decide. On Wednesday, both anti-choice and pro-abortion demonstrators from across the country congregated in the nation’s capital, including members of the Pinkhouse Defenders, Shout Your Abortion, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, Thank God For Abortion, Abortion Access Front, Plan C and NYC for Abortion Rights.
The contours of the abortion hearings and abortion struggle today have shifted dramatically in the nearly 50 years since Roe. The right has appropriated the tactics and the language of the left and of the civil rights movement, casting embryos as a vulnerable class of human beings at the mercy of the murderous “abortion-industrial complex” and pregnant people as its dupes. Clinic invasions — which have resurfaced after the lull following the passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act — are cast as “civil disobedience.” Perhaps most laughably, the argument advanced by Mississippi’s attorney general during hearings is that, since women in Mississippi can have thriving careers as well as raise families, abortion rights are no longer necessary. As of writing this, Mississippi has some of the weakest worker protections and family provisions — as well as some of the highest childbirth and infant mortality rates — in the country, with deep racial disparities.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently said about Dobbs: “The sponsors of this bill, the House bill, in Mississippi, said we’re doing it because we have new justices.… Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” The crisis of legitimacy of the state that Sotomayor is pointing to is evident. The economic crises, austerity, growth of the far right, climate change and COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the conditions that sparked recent uprisings for Black lives against police and prisons, have all shown that the capitalist state doesn’t care about our lives or if we die.
The anti-abortion movement has been very successful in capitalizing on the failures of neoliberalism, the “pro-choice” nonprofit complex, and Roe itself, which does not specifically guarantee abortion as a right, but defends a “right to privacy” that anti-abortion laws supposedly contravene. The fight against abortion is a pillar of the far right, and it is impossible to understand the growth of one without the other. The dispensation of liberal facades of the state and its institutions, such as the Supreme Court and the electoral system, is becoming ever more integral to the right, and it is because the courts are not neutral. But we are the ones who must transcend them. After all, Roe was won under Richard Nixon, with four Democrats and three Republicans in the majority, and one Democrat and one Republican dissenting. What made the difference? The abortion and women’s health movements, supported by physicians, and the women’s liberation and gay liberation movements, which came out of the civil rights movement.
Until the left takes up the fight for abortion as essential for the freedom and dignity of working people everywhere, basic bodily autonomy will remain a privilege of the rich and white. Moreover, the left will continue to miss a profound opportunity to wage a truly multiracial and liberatory fight that brings together women, LGBTQ people and the working class.
What’s left of Roe is being ripped to shreds before our eyes. It is only a question of time before we see a total or near-total national ban on abortion, based on a decision made by a handful of lifetime unelected people who dictate the laws in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, built on stolen land and slavery. We are devastated, angry, terrified about the future of abortion and reproductive health care in this country. But we must be ready. We won’t stop having abortions, whether through pills or defending clinics. Abortion is ours forever. Our antidotes are solidarity, hope and the knowledge that we are on the right side of history. It connects us to millions of feminists around the world. It is a call to action.