Five takeaways from the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling
The Supreme Court made its most dramatic intervention in American life in decades Friday, striking down the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that had provided a constitutional right to abortion.
The rescinding of the right is likely to lead to the banning of abortion in around half the states in the nation.
Thirteen states already had so-called trigger laws designed to make terminating a pregnancy illegal almost as soon as Roe fell. By Friday evening, nine states had outlawed abortion, according to The New York Times.
Friday’s ruling had been anticipated since early May, when Politico published a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito overturning Roe. The final version did not differ significantly from that draft, yet the announcement delivered an enormous detonation that reverberated across the nation and the world.
Here are some of the big political takeaways.
Devastated Democrats hope anger galvanizes voters
Liberals suffered a devastating defeat with the striking down of Roe.
In the immediate aftermath of the decision, there was talk of expanding the court or abolishing the Senate filibuster in order to enshrine Roe’s protections.
But even as liberals grapple with the loss of a right that has existed for half a century, they are also holding out hope of an electoral silver lining in November’s midterm elections and beyond.
“Voters need to make their voices heard this fall,” President Biden said at the White House on Friday, responding to the decision. “They must elect more senators and representatives who will codify women’s right to choose into federal law.”
“A woman’s right to choose — reproductive rights — is on the ballot in November,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a news conference soon after the decision was announced.
Democrats are facing a plethora of problems in November, including inflation, high gas prices, pandemic fatigue and record high levels of unauthorized migration at the southern border.
Could the seismic blow to abortion rights galvanize liberal-leaning women, in particular, to come out for Democrats in November?
It’s not certain, but it’s plausible.
One test will be whether Democrats do better than expected in states where abortion is illegal or on the brink of being made so.
Arizona, Georgia, Ohio and Wisconsin — all of which have competitive Senate races this fall — are on the Guttmacher Institute’s list of states “certain or likely” to ban abortion in a post-Roe America. Guttmacher is a research organization that favors abortion rights.
Supreme Court deepens its partisan image problem
The image of the Supreme Court was battered and bruised even before Friday’s ruling.
A Gallup survey released the day before the decision saw public confidence in the high court at its lowest point in almost 50 years of polling.
Only 1 in 4 adults expressed “a great deal” or “quite of lot” of confidence in the Court. Gallup noted this outcome was 5 percentage points lower than the previous nadir, recorded in 2014.
In 2001, soon after the Supreme Court had contentiously decided the 2000 presidential election in favor of Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore, public confidence in the court was twice as high as it is now.
Chief Justice John Roberts is aware of the problem.
Roberts voted with his five conservative colleagues in determining the case directly under consideration in Friday’s decision: Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which pertains to a Mississippi ban on abortion after 15 weeks.
But Roberts dissented on the question of striking down Roe.
Roberts has been at pains to try to protect the institution of the court before.
His unexpected vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act in 2012 is one example.
In 2019, after then-President Trump complained about an “Obama judge,” Roberts issued a statement insisting, “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”
His problem now is that most Americans don’t believe him.
Anti-abortion movement wins biggest victory of 50-year struggle
The split-screen reactions to the court’s verdict could hardly have been more dramatic.
While supporters of abortion rights responded in anger and horror, conservatives celebrated a victory for which they had worked for half a century.
“A grievous wrong was righted,” Penny Nance, the president of Concerned Women for America, told The New York Times.
“Today the ability to determine whether and when to limit abortion was returned to the American people,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, in a statement.
The anti-abortion movement has waged its battle in states and in lower courts. It has also maintained its efforts despite grave disappointment in post-Roe cases that upheld the right to abortion, most notably 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
On the biggest question of all, the anti-abortion movement has now prevailed.
Many of its activists on Friday promised to confine their fight, this time in pursuit of a nationwide ban on abortion.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who has deep roots on the religious right and could be a GOP presidential contender in 2024, was among those declaring his support for this goal.
Other rights in the crosshairs
One of the most startling subplots in Friday’s national drama came in an opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas concurring with the decision to strike down Roe.
Thomas asserted that the justices should “reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence and Obergefell.”
The dry legal language did not obscure the meaning of what Thomas was suggesting.
The three cases he mentioned established the right of married couples to contraception, the legality of same-sex intercourse and the right to same-sex marriage.
In each of those cases, Thomas continued, the justices “have a duty to ‘correct the error.’”
The claim sent a further tremor across a shocked liberal America.
Biden, in his White House remarks, noted that Thomas had “explicitly called to reconsider the right of marriage equality, the right of couples to make their choices on contraception.”
“This is an extreme and dangerous path the court is now taking us on,” the president added.
Nation’s temperature rises higher
Biden urged in his Friday remarks that any protests should be “peaceful, peaceful, peaceful.”
He has good reason to urge calm.
Two days previously, a 26-year-old man had appeared in court charged with the attempted murder of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The man, Nicholas Roske, had been arrested close to Kavanaugh’s home two weeks previously while armed. Prosecutors claim Roske said he was upset about the draft opinion presaging the end of Roe, among other things.
The initial protests at the Supreme Court were boisterous but peaceful.
But a nation already frayed by polarization, incendiary political rhetoric, the Trump presidency, the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and a once-in-a-century pandemic, is now facing into a long stretch where tensions threaten to boil even more violently.