A look at the history of Roe, the repercussions of the Dobbs decision, and where this all is headed.
After a month of knowing it was coming, the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade through their ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. For almost 50 years, the precedent set in Roe has protected the constitutional right for women to seek an abortion. It has been one of the most widely argued cases over the last 30 years, as both Republican and Democratic parties have drawn their battle lines numerous times.
This was not always the case for the right to choose. “In 1972, a Gallup poll found that 68 percent of Republicans believed abortion to be a private matter between a woman and her doctor”. As the Republican governor of California, Ronald Reagan signed an abortion law into effect in 1967 that was one of the more broad reaching laws in the country, allowing abortion for reasons of rape, incest, or for a woman who’s mental or physical health would be impaired by pregnancy. In fact, Nixon, Goldwater, Ford, H.W Bush, and more were all pro-choice Republicans in that period. The Protestant church supported it. The opposition, however, was the Democratic party, and more importantly, their large constituency of Catholics.
In an effort to win over the large Catholic voting bloc in the country, the Republican Party used this issue to make a seismic change in the political landscape. Using organizations like National Right to Life Committee and Catholic clergy to politicize their parishes, they designed a plan to switch voters from Democrat to Republican. By the time both ran for President, Bush and Reagan both walked back their early positions in favor for a pro-life position. The Republican platform added pro-life language, and used figures like Pat Buchanan and Jerry Falwell to effectively pull Catholic voters into the Republican ranks. But why?
As the historian of religion Randall Balmer explains in the film, evangelicals became politically active in the 1970s, when they were thwarted by the courts and the Internal Revenue Service in their efforts to obtain tax-exempt status for “segregation academies” like Jerry Falwell’s Lynchburg Christian School and Bob Jones University that heeded what they believed to be a biblical mandate to keep the races separate. Around the same time, Paul Weyrich, a Republican strategist, recognized the potential political power evangelical voters would have if they were to vote as a bloc, and tried to pull them into the fold with issues he thought might appeal to their moralism, such as the proliferation of pornography, the Equal Rights Amendment, and even abortion — which, prior to Roe, they were largely sympathetic toward and considered a Catholic issue.
As the Southern Strategy became less viable toward the end of the 60’s, the Republican party had to evolve to new issues. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had changed the power dynamics in the United States — and the South — leaving the party to find new issues to press towards. These became issues of government intervention(tax, regulations, social initiatives) and moral issues(abortion, gay rights), simply because they couldn’t run on outright racial issues anymore. Segregation was off the table, so they needed an issue that played better on the mainstream stage than outright racism. Tanya Melich, a Republican staffer that worked for numerous political staffs in those years, described it as “ a movement that said we were going to win the presidency through bigotry, but we are not going to come right out and say it.” And it worked. By 2022, a Gallup poll found that only 10% of republican voters thought abortion should be legal under any circumstances.
So what does this mean now that SCOTUS has overturned Roe v Wade today? It means that there is a deeper and more insidious plan at work. In his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas writes that “for that reason, in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.” Griswold v Connecticut (1965) secured the right to marital privacy and use of contraception. Lawrence v Texas (2003) invalidated sodomy laws, making same sex relationships legal in the United States. Obergefell v Hodges (2015) required states to license and recognize same sex marriage. It is no surprise that this decision and opinion come in a year where we have seen the most anti-trans/anti-lgbtq laws passed amongst states. Here is where it goes from here.
We will most likely see a Republican led initiative to ban abortion nationwide, as well as prosecute anyone assisting, performing, or even informing about the act of abortion among red states. Then they will crack down on marital privacy laws, effectively destroying the limits on governmental intrusion into private family matters, such as same sex relationships. We will see a massive push against same sex marriage laws, in an attempt to nullify a person’s right to marry whomever they wish. If they can push that far into marriage laws, they will look toward the Loving V Virginia (1967) ruling that struck down antimiscegenation laws that made interracial marriage illegal. Finally, you will see a push to overturn Runyon v McCrary (1976), which prohibited private schools from discriminating on the basis of race.
This comes on the tail end of a new proposal in the House and Senate for The Educational Choice for Children Act, allowing donors to contribute to private schools instead of paying taxes, creating a voucher to allow students to attend a private school instead of public schools. This circumvents the process, allowing tax dollars to be used to fund religious schools. Couple this with the possibility of overturning Runyon v McCrary and you’ve created a publicly funded segregation academy. These private schools were popular in the South following the Brown v Board of Education (1954) ruling that made segregation illegal in public schools.
We are seeing a massive push on the right to limit the scope and content that educators are allowed to work within. The Critical Race Theory boogeyman, as well as a concentrated effort to criminalize teaching accurate historical events, has laws taking shape all across the country. We are seeing criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is not far fetched to believe that this is the path that this court, effectively a theocratic ruling class now, is headed down. This decision doesn’t just affect women's’ rights. It has dire consequences for every single gain that has been made since the Civil Rights movement. In their dissent, the three liberal justices wrote, “With sorrow — for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection — we dissent.”
This is a overreach by a court made up of dangerous, reactionary individuals. They are counting on the fact that as a populous, we will give in to their decision and adhere to them like the priest class institution they believe themselves to be. This is one of those historical moments that has the power to radicalize massive amounts of people. This is the act of a group of people that feel cornered by the changing of the world around them, the push toward equality, and the reconciling with the sins of our collective past. In acts like this, they end up eroding the legitimacy of the institutions they hide behind. So be mad. Be upset. Be concerned. Don’t become complacent in this moment. Be pissed off and start to organize.