The US Supreme Court has overturned Roe v Wade, a 50 year old ruling that guaranteed a woman’s right to abortion. Why did it make the decision and what can pro-choice supporters do now?
“I am absolutely terrified. I am so beyond livid at what is going on that I am going to turn my fear into anger. There will be no functioning society without women and the women are pissed.”Channel 4 News
Americans knew it was coming but that didn’t dampen the fury.
The US Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, a 50 year old ruling that guaranteed a woman’s right to abortion.
Each US state will now be able to decide whether to ban it.
And more than half are certain or likely to do so, which means tens of millions of women will have to travel to other parts of the country to have an abortion.
Over the past century the Supreme Court has expanded American freedoms: ending school segregation…making gay marriage legal.
Now, for the first time in its history, the Court has made a major decision that will restrict liberties.
So how did we get here?
“I could not vote for a judge who had demonstrated hostility to Roe v Wade because it would indicate a lack of respect for precedent.”Channel 4 News
This is Susan Collins. She’s been a Republican senator for 25 years.
Historically she’s been seen as a moderate, the kind of politician who can be persuaded to work with Democrats.
But in 2018, she made a crucial play in the fight over Roe v Wade.
Because when Donald Trump ran for office, he had a clear agenda on abortion.
“Do you want to see the court overturn Roe v Wade?”
“Well if we put another two or perhaps three justices on, that will happen. And it’ll happen automatically in my opinion because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.”Donald Trump 2016 presidential debate
And as president, he shifted the balance of the Supreme Court… supposedly impartial, but, in truth, partisan… in his favour.
He appointed three anti-abortion justices… Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
But all three had to be approved by a vote in the Senate… and the decision over Brett Kavanaugh was on a knife edge.
He needed 50 votes to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.
And the 50th was in the gift of Susan Collins, who appeared determined not to vote for a justice who would oppose Roe v Wade.
Brett Kavanaugh gave public assurances that he respected the ruling.
“One of the important things to keep in mind about Roe v Wade is that it’s been reaffirmed many times over the past 45 years, as you know.”Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings
And private ones too.
The New York Times reports that Brett Kavanaugh told Susan Collins that he understood precedent and understood the importance of overturning it.
Susan Collins – after sitting on the fence for a while – was convinced.
“My fervent hope is that Brett Kavanaugh will work to lessen the divisions in the Supreme Court so that we have far fewer 5-4 decisions and so that public confidence in our judiciary and our highest court is restored. Mr President, I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.”CBC News
So Brett Kavanaugh was appointed as a Supreme Court justice by a 50 to 48 majority.
And then, less than 4 years later, he voted to overturn Roe v Wade.
Susan Collins has told the New York Times that she feels misled, but not everyone thinks she was.
Some critics say she played ignorant so she could win re-election to the Senate in 2020 without being outflanked by those on the right of the Republican Party.
After all, Brett Kavanaugh never directly promised her he would uphold Roe v Wade.
And his vague assurances, in fact, fit a pattern.
Here’s Samuel Alito.
“It’s the principle in general that courts in general should follow their past precedents. And it’s important for a variety of reasons…”Samuel Alito confirmation hearings
And Neil Gorsuch.
“Senator, again I would tell you that Roe v Wade decided in 1973 is a precedent of the US Supreme Court… It was reaffirmed in Casey in 1992 and in several other cases.”Neil Gorsuch confirmation hearings
Time after time, Republican Supreme Court nominees have suggested they wouldn’t overturn Roe v Wade without quite saying so.
And now they have overturned it.
What’s the way back for supporters of Roe v Wade?
Supreme Court justices… unless they choose to retire… have a seat for life, so the anti-abortion majority is unlikely to shift anytime soon.
Some Democrats advocate expanding the court to deal with this obstacle, but among many centrists… including President Joe Biden… that’s a non-starter.
Another option would be for Congress to codify abortion rights in law, but that too seems like a remote possibility.
It would need a two-thirds majority to pass the Senate, and some Democrats are stubbornly resistant to removing that threshold.
Joe Biden’s answer, as you might expect, is that Americans should vote for pro-choice Democrats in November’s mid-term elections.
“Voters need to make their voices heard. This fall, we must elect more senators and representatives, who will codify the woman’s right to choose in the federal law once again. Elect more state leaders to protect this right at a local level.”Joe Biden after Roe v Wade ruling
Joe Biden might be right, but getting pro-choice legislators into power is easier said than done.
By 2040, 30 per cent of the country will control 70 per cent of the Senate.
Smaller, whiter states – which lean Republican – already have more voting power than the rest of America.
The fight to overturn Roe didn’t start with Brett Kavanaugh or Susan Collins.
It began decades ago.
Supporters of abortion rights need to be in it for the long haul.
Today’s episode was written by Xavier Greenwood and mixed by Studio Klong.