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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, February 23, 2024

Op-ed: The vulnerable status of Roe v. Wade and the bleak state of American democracy

Content warning: This article mentions sexual assault.

In the wake of the omicron variant threatening to paralyze the world, the story of the Mississippi abortion case is somewhat overshadowed. Yet, the Supreme Court’s inclination to uphold the Mississippi abortion law — one that would overtly undermine Roe v. Wade — marks a grave reality of the current Supreme Court: A system that was once renowned for upholding democracy has been corroded by party politics. The result of this is far more bleak: the precarity of a woman’s constitutional right to choose.

The Mississippi law proposes to ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. This law is in direct opposition to the ruling of Roe v. Wade in 1973, which, according to TheNew York Times, “established a constitutional right to abortion and prohibited states from banning the procedure before fetal viability, around 23 weeks.” The Mississippi case parallels the Supreme Court ruling in Texas back in September which restricts abortion after six weeks of pregnancy — another plain disregard of U.S. constitutional law. These cases, and the likelihood that the Supreme Court judges will uphold the law in Mississippi, are clearly the precursors to more attempts to weaken Roe v. Wade.

Yet, the only reason that these cases have been considered to begin with is because of the court’s new change in membership. Under the Trump administration, the former president appointed three judges: Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. All three of these picks are right leaning, resulting in a conservative supermajority in the Supreme Court. These positions are held until death, impeachment or retirement, so these appointees will make up the court for perhaps decades. While the Trump presidency is (at least for the moment) over, the ideologies of the destructive administration prevail through the judges' tolerance of the incessant threats to Roe v. Wade. 

When thinking about the judges confirmed during the former administration, let’s not forget that Brett Kavanaugh — Trump’s second appointee — was nominated despite multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. These allegations dated back as far as his high school and college years. The most publicized was that of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who recounted Kavanaugh’s forcing her into a bedroom against her will and subsequently sexually assaulting her. Despite these claims, his nomination was confirmed by the then-majority Republican Senate. There’s irony that an alleged sex offender has the power to withhold a woman’s right to choose. It reflects how the actions of the Trump administration that overlooked the basic well-being of women have reverberated into the present moment.

Restrictions on abortion do not prevent its practice, but instead increase the likelihood of women resorting to unsafe measures to end unwanted pregnancies. TheCenter for Reproductive Rights finds that states with more abortion restrictions have higher rates of maternal and infant mortality. This is because women without access to abortions at a regulated health facility will often seek clandestine abortions, or other unregulated and unsafe measures to end a pregnancy. Yet, despite these facts, a decision that may negatively impact millions rests in the hands of an uncompromising few. 

Politicians and activists have taken to social media to share their thoughts on the matter. Among a slew of charged tweets, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote, “We cannot and will not leave our granddaughters a world in which they have fewer rights and opportunities than we did.” 

She’s right. We need to ensure that women are raised in a world where their health and well-being are valued. Yet, this obligation seems impossible when the highest court in the United States operates under such a politically divisive framework. The influence of party politics within the judicial system undermines the democratic values on which the American government ostensibly rests. This comes at the cost of real women. 

Abortion isn’t the only thing impacted by the Supreme Court’s fragmented structure. Recent decisions that include its failure to address partisan gerrymandering, its expansion of corporate personhood and its inability to uphold campaign finance laws are also the result of party politics overriding the democratic process. The greater politicization of our country’s judicial system has affected our country in terms of accountability and equitability, and shown how it could dismantle the legality of abortion. 

While I am discouraged by the present state of American democracy, I find hope in the various forms of activism supporting the constitutional rights granted by Roe v. Wade. Countless protesters have emerged outside of the Supreme Court in opposition to the Mississippi law, with some dancing to Cardi B’s “WAP” (2020), a song that celebrates female sexual pleasure. Organizations like Planned Parenthood tirelessly continue to  provide individuals with access to essential reproductive health care services. So, despite governmental resistance, we persist. At the heart of these efforts is the undeniable power of women.