Rebecca Traister: Betrayal of Roe Decades in the MakingBreaking News
tags: Roe v. Wade, abortion, Supreme Court
The aftermath of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments this week on the fate of Roe v. Wade — in which a phalanx of right-wing justices made plain their disdain for the law — has been a festival of finger-pointing and recrimination by those who were startled to have woken up in a world in which it looks very much like the right to legal abortion care will soon cease to exist at the federal level.
I understand the impulse to point fingers at individuals and factions, have myself often felt the gratification that comes from naming the bad guy responsible for a mess. It feels so very good, in such a very bad time, to hate Donald Trump, as well as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and also, somehow, Susan Sarandon. This was, surely, their fault, and also the fault of everyone with the shortsightedness and self-regard to have supported them or voted for them or worn a T-shirt with their faces on it.
But this impulse is itself shortsighted and self-serving, in that it allows us to evade the far more suffocating and incriminating reality: that we got to this terrifying place not just by some wrong turn made recently by one wrong person we don’t like, but by decades-long, systemic failures. The biggest and most damning of these is the failure to counter a regressive movement’s project to ensure minority rule and thus dismantle the rights and protections won by activists who labored over generations to gain them — abortion rights very much included. That failure in turn reflects a deeper one: an unwillingness to take the full humanity of women, of pregnant people, of Black and brown and poor people, seriously.
The overturn of Roe will not be about one failed electoral campaign or badly timed Supreme Court death or failure to retire — though as with any historical cataclysm, its timing and shape will have been determined by those factors, sure. But Roe — like the Voting Rights Act that was gutted in 2013, and the labor and climate and anti-corporate and gay-rights protections that have been and will continue to be rolled back — would not have been made vulnerable to these quirks of timing and personality had it ever had the kind of institutional, ideological, intellectual, and emotional muscle behind it that it deserved. Its loss will reflect years of inattention from those entrusted with its guardianship, by definition the people nearest to the top of our power structures, people who advertise themselves as invested in the rights and protections of people closer to the bottom, yet who have repeatedly failed to prioritize those people’s dignity and well-being — to even really see, much less care about, the daily, lived impact of abortion prohibition.
It wasn’t four years after Roe that the Hyde Amendment — which barred the use of government insurance programs to pay for most abortions — first passed, making the purported legal right to abortion care practically nonexistent for people who relied on federal insurance programs for their health care. Over the half-century that abortion has been officially legal on a federal level, it has become ever more inaccessible to people of color, to poor people, to immigrants, to younger people, to people in rural communities and in red states, thanks to Hyde and thousands of state and local restrictions and regulations. Curtailed abortion access has made already imperiled populations ever more imperiled, all while Roe has officially stood.
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