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Sensemaker: No Roe

Sensemaker: No Roe

What just happened

Long stories short

  • The UK’s Charity Commission said it would review a gift to Prince Charles of a million euros in cash in a suitcase.
  • Kyiv came under missile attack from a Russian vessel in the Caspian Sea.
  • G7 leaders said they would back Ukraine militarily, economically and diplomatically for “as long as it takes” to prevail against Russia.

No Roe

Three days into the post-Roe age, six US states have already banned abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Ten more will have complete prohibitions soon, or already have with very narrow exceptions.

Democrats are casting around in what feels like desperation for political responses to a 30-year legal ambush that happened in plain sight but still caught them napping.

And Americans who still believe in checks and balances are wondering what it means that six supreme court judges could ignore the preference of 60 per cent of voters.

Fifteen words is all it took for the US Supreme Court to overturn nearly 50 years of precedent and remove the constitutional right to access abortion for 40 million American women.

 “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey must be overruled” is the majority opinion (5 to 4) of the court, released on Friday. The justices were ruling on the constitutionality of Mississippi’s bid to ban abortion after 15 weeks, a law opposed by the state’s only abortion clinic. 

Fed to state. Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority’s final opinion, continued: “The authority to regulate abortion must be returned to the people and their elected representatives”. His argument is that state assemblies rather than the federal government are the place to debate abortion.

In practice that means: 

  • 26 states are likely or certain to ban it. 
  • In 13 of those states, laws already in place and designed to be triggered by the court’s ruling will take effect immediately or within the next 30 days.
  • 57 per cent of American women of reproductive age (15-49) now live in states hostile to abortion rights. 
  • These states are home to a majority of women most likely to have an abortion, including young mothers, Black women and women living below the poverty line. See our Sensemaker on who abortion bans hurt for more analysis. 

A country divided. Another key plank of the Alito opinion is that Roe – and the subsequent Planned Parenthood v Casey case that upheld Roe – “enflamed debate and deepened division”. There is little sign those rifts will be closed in absence of Roe. 

The Michigan example. A 1931 pre-Roe state law treats abortion in Michigan as a felony for health care professionals and without exceptions for rape and incest. Without Roe, it’s set to become law again. Michigan’s democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has already sworn to “fight like hell” to block it. The state’s attorney general, Dana Nessell, has also refused to enforce the law. So far, she has obtained a temporary injunction. 

But Republican leaders in the state legislature, Right to Life groups and the Michigan Catholic Conference have vowed to defend its enforcement – and Nessell cannot prevent prosecutors bringing cases. Expect similar battles to emerge in legislatures and courtrooms across the country. 

On the Hill. In Washington, where protests and celebrations are being held on the steps of the Supreme Court, Biden’s current plan is focused on Congress and on medical as opposed to surgical abortions; ie on laws and pills. 

  • Laws. Previous attempts to pass a federal law protecting the right to abortion have been thwarted by Senate Republicans. 
  • Pills. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that 54 per cent of all abortions performed in the US in 2020 were medication abortions. When two pills (mifepristone and misoprostol) are taken together they are 95 per cent effective at ending a pregnancy and are FDA-approved up to 11 weeks after the last period.

Attempts to block access to these pills, Biden said, are “wrong and extreme and out of touch with the majority of Americans”. But legislating at a federal level on the use of FDA-approved medicines in order to trump state law is uncharted territory. 

Impact on the court. Brazen defiance of public opinion is always a dangerous strategy, but the majority opinion insists it’s not concerned with such things; only with the law. Nonetheless Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard and former Supreme Court clerk, calls the decision “is an act of institutional suicide”. Biden also took a carefully worded shot at the court for “some terrible decisions” – a nod to the Roe ruling but also to a separate judgment last week blocking attempts to increase gun ownership restrictions in New York, despite recent mass shootings. 

The theory. The legal bases for the Alito opinion are originalism and textualism. The application, in this case, is simple: abortion wasn’t written into the constitution, therefore it shouldn’t legally be seen as a constitutional right. Alito argues that 

  • Roe was “egregiously wrong” for protecting access to abortion under the 14th Amendment’s right to privacy;
  • and that Casey was just as wrong for protecting Roe within the right to liberty. 

Lies and half-truths. Congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle have expressed anger that the conservative justices went back on promises made in confirmation hearings to not “rock the boat”. They shouldn’t have been surprised. 

Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney-Barrett all have long-standing links with the Federalist Society: a legal advocacy group for textualism and originalism. As Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters yesterday: President Trump deserves the “lion’s share” of the credit for fighting “like a tiger” to put them on the court. 

To note:

  • Though little consolation for women with unwanted pregnancies elsewhere, 11 states including New York and California have ensured legal and expanded access to abortion since the Mississippi case was brought.  
  • It would have been a very different world had Hillary Clinton won in 2016 (hat-tip, NPR).

Monty Python’s Flying Prime Minister

Matthew d’Ancona

No wonder our jetsetting PM is so keen on his foreign adventures. At home, Boris “Three Terms” Johnson is becoming a joke.


Russian default
Russia defaulted on its foreign debt last night for the first time since the Bolshevik Revolution, even though it has the money. Funds are pouring in from the sale of oil and gas to countries that don’t care about the war in Ukraine (and plenty that do), but sanctions prevent Russia getting money out: last month the US closed a sanctions loophole that had allowed American holders of Russian eurobonds to accept payments when they fell due. As a result, when a 30-day grace period expired yesterday Moscow was in technical default on about $100 million of interest payments. Russia’s finance minister calls the situation a farce, but nearly $1 billion more in interest payments fall due between now and the end of the year, and it was Russia’s decision to go to war. Long term, this could hurt.


Ash plays golf
Wimbledon starts today, but the best player in the women’s game isn’t there. She’s playing golf, preparing for a tournament in the US next weekend in which she will team up with Pep Guardiola, the Manchester City FC manager, and Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur, against an American team comprising the boxer Oscar de la Hoya and the swimmer Michael Phelps, among others. Ash Barty won the Australian Open in January, then quit pro tennis aged 25, worrying about burnout. Japan’s Naomi Osaka has also put her mental health ahead of the chance of trophies and won’t be at Wimbledon either. After winning $24 million in tennis prize money, Barty’s first golf win after leaving the game came with a pot of $21.


Artificial photosynthesis
Imagine lettuce, rice, peas, tomatoes, peppers and canola growing in the dark, with only CO2, renewable electricity and acetate as inputs. Researchers at the University of Delaware and the University of California at Riverside have made it happen. It’s a version of artificial photosynthesis and they believe it could unlock solutions to the problem of feeding the world without using its whole land area for cultivation. They used the CO2, the power and a copper catalyst to produce the acetate (commonly found in vinegar), and the acetate to produce plant food in the form of yeast, fungus and algae. That in turn fed the veg; no sunlight needed. Nature Food had the scoop but the University of Delaware has a good summary. Natural photosynthesis is only 1 per cent efficient at turning sunlight into chemical energy. In terms of the proportion of CO2 molecules converted, this process is 57 times more efficient. Artificial photosynthesis is a holy grail for people working on negative carbon emissions. So could this deal with climate change? Answers to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com, please.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Stress cancer
Stress kills. Put more sedately, there seems to be a correlation between stressful events (including discrimination) and the build-up of “zombie” senescent cells in the body. As CNN reports, these are cells that no longer divide but refuse to die. They can contribute to chronic inflammation and raise the risk of Alzheimer’s and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A University of Southern California study also found that social stress correlates with weakened immune systems and higher proportions of worn-out T-cells, which the body uses to fight cancers and heart disease. The study asked a sample of more than 5700 adults over 50 about their experience of “stressful life events, chronic stress, everyday discrimination and lifetime discrimination,” and looked for biomarker patterns in their blood. There were plenty.

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

The trouble with JBS
The world’s biggest meat company has broken a promise made at Cop26 to stop buying meat from ranches using illegally deforested land, Global Witness reports. It says JBS, of Brazil, signed a no-deforestation pledge at Cop but has continued to buy beef from 144 ranches that don’t comply with agreements JBS has made with Brazilian prosecutors. JBS denies the claim but GW goes further: it says the company continues to do business with another 470 ranches that use illegally cleared land in the Amazon equivalent to 40,000 football pitches. Global Witness lists users of JBS products, including Sainsbury’s, Iceland, Morrisons, Asda and – for leather upholstery in cars – Toyota and VW. 

The week ahead


27/6 – Inquest begins into Belly Mujinga’s death; former Prime Minister John Major gives evidence to infected blood inquiry, 28/6 – Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon sets out how a second Scottish independence referendum would work in Holyrood; Office for National Statistics publishes first results from 2021 Census; London Mayor Sadiq Khan participates in State of London debate; 29/6 – Committee on Climate Change publishes 2022 progress report; Royal Mail strike ballot closes; 30/6 – Future of Britain conference held in London, organised by Tony Blair Institute; Royal College of General Practitioners conference; 1/7 – Deadline for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeal against decision to extradite him to US and face espionage charges; Anne-Marie Trevelyan speaks at British Chambers of Commerce annual conference, 2/7 – 50th anniversary of Pride in London


27/6 – European Central Bank forum on central banking begins in Portugal; UN Ocean Conference held in Portugal, co-hosted by Kenya; Wimbledon tennis tournament begins in London; strike action by Criminal Bar Association members starts over public trial funding; 28/6 – Ghislaine Maxwell due for sentencing after being found guilty in sex abuse trial; France’s new National Assembly holds first session; Maroš Šefčovič speaks at Bloomberg’s London offices on EU-UK partnership; Nato’s summit in Madrid begins; Ukraine celebrates Constitution Day, 29/6 – Target launch date for Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket, 30/6 – Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr takes office as Philippines’ new president, 1/7 – Brazil takes over UN Security Council presidency for July; Tour de France begins in Copenhagen; Canada Day; ECB ends bond-buying stimulus measure scheme to counteract high inflation; India celebrates annual Rath Yatra Hindu festival, 2/7 – World UFO day

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Phoebe Davis

With additional reporting by Giles Whittell.

Photographs Getty Images

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