We now live in a country where the government cannot force you to wear a mask on planes during a pandemic, but can force you to carry a pregnancy against your will. It is a country where the government will not ban certain types of assault rifles, but will ban certain types of medical supplies. We live in this country because five justices who have succumbed to fundamentalist Christian orthodoxy have taken control of the Supreme Court — and because the majority of Americans who reject that orthodoxy have too often ceded moral ground to the monsters who claim they have legitimate and enforceable interests over women’s bodies.
Women’s rights organizations and advocates have been in the trenches for decades fighting this fundamentalist cult at literal physical risk to their lives. They have fought on the streets and in the courtroom, but their supposed allies in Congress, the media, and the boardroom have rarely stood behind them. Fundamentalist Republicans have spent the better part of 50 years pretending to be on a holy crusade to stop baby killers. Democrats, at least many of the elected ones, have stuck by Bill Clinton’s phrase that abortion should be “safe, legal and infrequent” like some guy trying to fight global warming with an umbrella. Is it any wonder which side wins?
It’s understandable why proponents and allies have long adopted softer language when it comes to abortion rights. For example, the moral argument for “choice” is nice and easy to make, and has the advantage that it’s the only sane way to run a free society: If you think abortion is murder, please don’t have an abortion! But while pro-choice was a good argument when we were trying to persuade people, it falls short as a fighting stance. I’m done giving up the moral space to Christian fundamentalists. Forced childbirth – literally confiscating a person’s uterus and forcing them to hatch cells against their will – is evil and barbaric and cannot be enforced by a legitimate government.
To reclaim the basic human rights that the Supreme Court will abolish, the fundamentalist program must be challenged through politics, the courts, and moral persuasion—and vehemently. The centrist Democrats don’t want you to know that, but opposing this program politically is by far the easiest of the three.
First, President Joe Biden could make abortion services available in federal facilities. Doctors could then lease the space out of their own pockets from the US government; this would protect them from draconian state laws as well as the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion services (and even if it doesn’t circumvent the Hyde Amendment, who cares, because Democrats could just repeal the Amendment if they wanted to). Biden should already be taking those steps in Texas, where abortion has been virtually impossible since September.
The Senate, if it ever helped, could pass legislation protecting abortion rights. It could enact safe-passage legislation that would require states that refuse reproductive services to allow pregnant people to travel to other states where those services are available, and then allocate federal funding to provide that transportation, housing and to pay for the non-working time.
The most direct approach would be for the Democrats to restore through legislation what the Supreme Court destroyed by court order. Pass legislation outlining key holdings Roe v. calf— and end the filibuster to get it through the Senate if need be. But of course the Democrats, two in particular, will not do that, which brings us back to fighting the theocratic agenda of the right through the courts.
The easiest would be to expand the courts with judges and judges who believe the 14th Amendment is a rule, not a suggestion, and uphold notions of equal protection and a fair trial. In a way, Samuel Alito’s draft report is a legal gift because he did his job so poorly. Alito didn’t really bother with the complicated and often crippling analysis that judges typically perform when overturning precedent. He just came out and said that roe was “enormously wrong” and that women had no basic rights because the slave traders and misogynists who wrote the constitution didn’t think they should.
You don’t need fancy legal footwork to refute Alito’s opinion. All you need to do is: “This court was terribly wrong when it ruled that Roe was terribly wrong. While women’s rights are not deeply rooted in this country’s misogynist founding, we find the inability of long-dead sexists and slave traders to recognize the fundamental humanity of others as their problem, not ours.” Give me 20 judges who agree, and I have solved the problem of Alito’s mind.
But I fear the Democrats will not take all of these ambitious, if obvious, steps unless they first learn how to fight the moral battles. I think of the many brave people, mostly women, who serve as companions to those who are simply trying to go to abortion clinics. Every day, they bravely guide pregnant women through a gauntlet of poison so they can access medical care, while the haters — who roar and scream and threaten — somehow believe they have the moral superiority. But we do know that it was the abortion advocates who always stood on the side of truth and righteousness. They are the ones with the higher pretensions to moral clarity.
Now that Christian fundamentalists have claimed control of wombs they don’t own, maybe it’s time Democrats take their lead from the brave clinic attendants and not the people who believe zygotes have more rights than survivors of rapes. Maybe it’s time to stop compromising with them and try to fight them.