What next, after Roe? Doomsday scenarios to further the divide

A woman stands in front of the Supreme Court holding a sign reading "Your legitimacy is crumbling"
AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib
Demonstrators protest outside of the U.S. Supreme Court, on May 5, 2022, in Washington.

Let’s see if we have this right: As the midterm elections approach Democrats can’t run on how they got inflation under control, or how they got crime under control, or how they got illegal immigration on our southern border under control. But they can run on how conservative Supreme Court justices are out of control. Or, to put it another way, they can run on the issue of abortion.

But even if the court overturns Roe v. Wade, as the draft opinion leaked to Politico indicates, that alone might not be enough to save Democrats in November — unless they and their media allies put forth worst-case scenarios that would scare enough moderate Democrats, swing-state voters, and mostly suburban women to turn out in big enough numbers on Election Day to head off the expected red wave. 

Here’s one scenario: “There are few things as monumental as a federal ban on the right to control your own body that will get women to the polls,” Sonia Ossorio, the president of NOW New York, told the New York Post. “This will be a huge galvanizing moment.” 

It’s not important if the “worst-case scenario” is true. All it must do is sound like it could be true; all it must do is convince voters that dark days are just over the horizon if Roe is overturned. And a so-called “federal ban” on abortion in the United States isn’t the only doomsday scenario that abortion-rights activists are trying to sell to American voters. If Roe is overturned, they claim, it would be just the beginning; other rights could fall, too.  

The Supreme Court’s decision allowing gay marriage, they tell us, could be overturned. Same with interracial marriage. 

Here’s how an editorial in the New York Times, the paper that sets the agenda for much of the mainstream media, put it: “The draft opinion relies heavily on the lack of a mention of abortion in the Constitution, and therefore argues that the document cannot be the basis for the right to terminate a pregnancy. The Constitution also says nothing about interracial marriage, but that didn’t prevent the justices from finding in the Fourteenth Amendment the guarantee that no couple may be treated differently because of the color of their skin.”

“Imagine that every state were free to choose whether to allow Black people and white people to marry,” the editorial says. “Some states would permit such marriages; others probably wouldn’t. The laws would be a mishmash, and interracial couples would suffer, legally consigned to second-class status depending on where they lived.”

That may sound like a reasonable concern, but it’s at odds with what Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court’s majority, says in the draft opinion: “We emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

Excuse me for stating the obvious, but a lot of liberals simply don’t believe Alito. They don’t trust him and they don’t like him.

He also writes, “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled” because “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

You might think that if abortion-rights activists believe that such a profound decision, one that affects millions of American women and their families, should not be left to a few justices who are elected by nobody and accountable to no one, then they’d actually agree with Alito that “the issue of abortion” should be decided by “the people’s elected representatives.”

If the activists believe the court’s apparent ruling on abortion is fundamentally undemocratic, then you might conclude they’d be in favor of putting the decision in the hands of officials in all 50 states who are accountable to voters. Make an unpopular decision on abortion and those elected officials might find themselves out of office and looking for work.

And if the activists are really against a few justices ruling on abortion in 2022 why, you might naively ask, weren’t they against a few justices ruling on abortion in 1973, when the court decided that women had a right to abortion?

When the subject is as hot as abortion, don’t waste your time looking for consistency. All that matters — to both sides — is having their deeply-held beliefs formally and officially ratified and validated.

So, what comes next, if the court does overturn Roe? Expect to hear more about packing the Supreme Court (with liberal justices, of course) and killing the filibuster (while Democrats still control the Senate) — all in the service of preserving abortion rights.

Whether you’re “pro choice” or “pro life,” there’s one thing Americans on both sides of the divide might agree on: a line from that New York Times editorial that says: “If you thought Roe v. Wade itself led to discord and division, just wait until it’s gone.”

Bernard Goldberg is an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist. He was a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Substack page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.

Tags 2022 midterms abortion rights Democrats Roe Samuel Alito Supreme Court

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