This is for the girl right now hiding in the bathroom stall with two pink lines on a pregnancy test and the rest of her life in front of her.
On Monday evening, Politico published a leaked document that seemed to signal that the Supreme Court may soon overturn Roe v. Wade. “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” Justice Samuel Alito Jr. allegedly wrote in a draft opinion that would end federal protection of abortion access. The official decision won’t be announced until later this summer, and meanwhile, it’s time to think of the girl in the bathroom stall and everyone else who has been or ever will be in her position, and of everyone who put her there.
Conservatives finally did it, or it looks like it anyway. Conservative voters elected conservative politicians who appointed conservative judges. A machine decades in the making, leaving progressive women and the men who support them with a mix of inchoate grief and blinding rage. A decision that cleanly establishes a divide in America: men, who will have control over the most intimate parts of their bodies, and women, who will have control over their bodies only in some states, at the whim of some legislators.
This column is not for those conservatives. This is for the abortionists. “Reproductive care providers” is the more neutral term, but “abortionists” is the term Alito preferred in his draft opinion, a word that suggests back-alley fixers doing seedy procedures.
But people like Alito will despise your work no matter what it’s called, so we might as well reclaim the title. Others know what the work really is, and what it means to do it. This is for the abortionists who go to work in bulletproof vests in picketed buildings and who carry the secrets and futures and hopes and regrets of their patients to and from work every day, and who do so with dutiful mercy. May God bless you. May His face shine upon you.
This is for Susan Collins. The Maine senator in 2018 delivered an hour-long speech on the Senate floor announcing that she would be voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court because she said he believed him when he implied, all smarmy innocent, that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned. How do you feel now, Senator Collins?
We have wasted too much time and done too much capitulating with “safe, legal and rare.” It should have always been “safe and legal, full stop.” Because when conservative politicians or judges start complaining about abortion “on demand,” we should remember that “on demand” just means that a woman wants it and is asking for it, and the politician or judge is trying to say that we shouldn’t care what she wants.
“A right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and traditions,” Alito wrote in the draft opinion. He makes no mention of the things that are rooted in the nation’s history and traditions: slavery, disenfranchisement, discrimination. America is allowed to work on itself. Bodily autonomy should not be granted to women because of history and traditions; it should be recognized because of their innate dignity as human beings.
This column is for the women who fought for it the first time, who are now in their 70s and 80s and whom we will now ask to gird up for battle again. The marchers. The protesters. The members of the Jane collective; those are the activists who learned how to fashion abortion devices out of Mason jars and syringes, who ferried patients across state lines or into (yes) back alleys.
There were always abortions, after all. They happened with Mason jars, and they happened with knitting needles, and they happened in bedrooms, and they happened without painkillers, and they happened with women squeezing one another’s hands so tightly their knuckles were white, and they happened, and they happened, and they happened. The overturning of Roe would not mean the end of abortions. It would just mean the end, in certain states, of safe, legal abortions.
Alito’s opinion is barbarous and cruel. It is broad where it could have been narrow. It is scathing where it could have been compassionate. It is, as discussions about abortion often are, so preoccupied with scrambling for the moral high ground that it pays no attention to the women being trampled underfoot.
This is for the girl right now hiding in the bathroom stall with two pink lines on a pregnancy test.
The girl who is going to find a way to not be pregnant anyway, no matter what the Supreme Court ends up saying in June.
There are people who will cheer at the messaging in Alito’s leaked draft opinion, seeing it as a victory for the “unborn,” or the “preborn,” who they believe are the victims in the abortion war.
The victims are the girls in the bathroom stalls. The victims are the women who are already born, whose lives are already being lived, only now lived with more fear and pain.
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