“A flagrantly unconstitutional law … I dissent.”
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteed American women the right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. For more than two generations, the pro-choice side supporting a woman’s right to authority over her own body and her own medical care has seen this as their right. For the same amount of time, the pro-life side has seen it as their right to tell others what to do with their own bodies.
Roe v. Wade has been settled law for nearly 50 years. But dual shockwaves that crossed the U.S. on Tuesday have cast a pall on a right that most women had come to take for granted and the implications are rolling far beyond the women of child-bearing age of Texas.
On Tuesday the Texas state legislature passed the most restrictive abortion bill in the country, denying abortions to Texas women (at roughly six weeks when a heartbeat can be detected). In a stunning invasion of a woman’s right to her own body, the legislature turned Texas residents into vigilante bounty hunters, charging them with reporting on anyone they suspect of helping a woman get an abortion (even for pregnancies due to incest or rape) and allowing them to sue that person for a minimum of $10,000 for up to four years after the alleged abortion.
While abortion is still legal in this country, in Texas the situation harkens back to Stalinist Soviet Union or Hitler’s Fascist Germany, places where in the past, spies turned in their neighbors for not toeing the party line. Now a friend, a former lover, a boss, a nosey neighbor, a complete stranger or even the rapist — literally anyone — can now report on someone and sue them for abetting an abortion, even if it is to drive the woman out of state to one of the other 49 states where abortion is perfectly legal.
Overnight Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 conservative decision (packed with the three conservative judges appointed by former President Trump) refused to hear the emergency legal filing ‘Whole Woman’s Health v, Jackson’. It would have put a stay on the implementation of the law while objections were heard. The majority declined, citing procedural complexities. Wednesday morning Texas women woke up to the news that they had far fewer rights over their own bodies than they had the day before and American women everywhere would seem to have a right to be worried.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts joined the minority in dissent, and in a stinging rebuke of her fellow justices, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote:
“The Court’s order is stunning. Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand … Last night, the Court silently acquiesced in a State’s enactment of a law that flouts nearly 50 years of federal precedents … Taken together, the Act is a breathtaking act of defiance—of the Constitution, of this Court’s precedents, and of the rights of women seeking abortions throughout Texas … I dissent.”
The Supreme Court decision to allow the bill to go into effect has already had a chilling effect on the entire country. No less than 11 red states with Republican-controlled legislatures are expected to copy the bill’s template in their own states. The governors of Florida and South Dakota have indicated they will begin immediately.
The Whistleblower Site
Immediately after the bill’s passage, the anti-abortion group called Texas Right to Life set up a whistleblowing website for people to report people they suspect are aiding those going for abortions.
The stunning swiftness of this move hasn’t allowed much time for traditional protest marches and signs, but a crowd-sourced solution has begun to fight back against the whistleblowing site set up by Texas Right to Life.
A groundswell passed along on social media by people of all ages are supporting women’s rights, jamming the site with hundreds of thousands of spam messages, causing the site to crash. One activist on TikTok even created a script that can automatically feed fake reports into the website’s tipbox.
The whistleblower site was set up on GoDaddy, and almost immediately the web host responded, giving the Texas anti-abortion group 24 hours to find a new home. They said “We have informed prolifewhistleblower.com they have 24 hours to move to another provider for violating our terms of service.” Those terms include not harvesting names and information from or on people without the person’s consent.
Ironically, the stance of the pro-life groups is not an opinion held by the majority of Americans. According to an April, 2021 Pew Research Center poll, six in ten Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Not surprisingly, support is stronger among Democrats and it has risen steadily.
In 2007, roughly two-thirds of Democrats and Democratic leaners (63 percent) said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Support among Democrats has risen by nearly 20 points since then, and now 80 percent are pro-choice. During that same period of time support for abortion rights among Republicans has fallen. In 2007, around four-in-ten Republicans (39 percent) said abortion should be legal in all or most cases; today, 35 percent agree with that statement.
Featured image: a protest at the Supreme Court. Image courtesy of The Nation.