CHURCH & STATE | Reversing the Roe Reversal: Be Prepared for a Long Battle for Reproductive Freedom

As I was writing these words, the Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established a right to abortion. By the time you read this, it may have already happened.

It’s estimated that at least half of the states will put significant restrictions on abortion or attempt to ban it outright. But that’s just the beginning. The anti-abortion forces worked nearly 50 years to overturn Roe. They won’t stop here.

What can we expect? Here are five battles that will loom large in post-Roe America:

The far-right will attempt to pass a nationwide abortion ban: Anti-abortion zealots, most of whom are motivated by ultraconservative religious fervor, won’t settle for abortion being legal anywhere in America. They’re already plotting to pass a nationwide ban.

The Washington Post reported on May 2 that anti-abortion organizations have been meeting with allies in Congress to plot their next move if Republicans take control of Congress after November’s midterm elections.

“This is a whole new ballgame,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life Action, told The Post. “The fifty years of standing at the Supreme Court’s door waiting for something to happen is over.”

The anti-abortion groups, The Post reported, have also reached out to ten possible 2024 GOP presidential candidates, including Donald Trump, to ensure that they’d be willing to sign a law that bans abortion nationwide. Given the filibuster rules in the Senate, a bill like that would be hard to pass; but if the GOP takes control of that chamber come January, they could change those rules.

In some states, women seeking abortions in violation of the law will be charged with homicide: Abortion opponents insist that they don’t want to punish women who illegally seek abortions, and that the law will penalize only those who provide abortions. We’d be naïve to believe that. These people believe abortion is murder, so it follows that a woman who plots a murder is equally culpable as someone who carries it out. Indeed, Louisiana legislators have introduced a bill that would declare abortion homicide. If found guilty, both women and providers would face prison sentences. It won’t be the only state to go down that road.

States where abortion is illegal will attempt to prevent women from traveling to states where it is legal: Remember, religious extremists will not accept abortion being legal anywhere. Women in anti-abortion states who have the means to travel to states where it’s legal will be targeted. In Missouri, a state legislator has introduced a bill designed to intimidate anyone who gets an abortion in another state or facilitates one. Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R-Arnold), private citizens could file lawsuits against anyone who helps a Missouri resident obtain an abortion in another state. (If you drive your friend across the border to a clinic, lend her money to pay for the procedure or even make a phone call to set up an appointment, you’re culpable.) Enforcement of the law would be left up to state residents, not the government, but the prospect of people being dragged into court and forced to defend themselves at considerable cost is clearly intended to scare women seeking abortions. A similar measure is pending in Texas, and you can expect to see copycat measures elsewhere.

Anti-abortion forces will erect whatever roadblocks they can think up: Opponents of legal abortion are limited only by their imaginations–and they tend to be very creative when it comes to thinking up ways to prevent women from getting abortions. (Consider the waiting periods, mandatory sonogram laws and other measures that exist in many states.) We’ll see more of this. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has introduced a bill that would punish companies whose health care plans pay for employees to get out-of-state abortions. In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee (R) has signed legislation making it illegal for anyone to use telehealth meetings or the mail to provide medications that cause abortion. Those who violate the law could be subjected to a fine of $50,000.

Birth control will be targeted: Anti-abortion extremists consider certain forms of birth control, mainly intrauterine devices (IUDs), contraceptive rods that are implanted in a woman’s arm and emergency contraception pills, to be “abortifacients”–that is, devices that cause abortion. They’re already lobbying in some states to ban them. And why would they stop there? Roe v. Wade rests on a legal theory of a right to privacy first promulgated in 1965’s Griswold v. Connecticut. Griswold struck down state laws that banned medical professionals from providing information about birth control to married couples. If the legal rationale for Griswold falls, your right to purchase and use any kind of birth control collapses with it.

So, what are we going to do? I have two thoughts.

First, everyone needs to realize that this battle is political. Anti-abortion forces got where they are today because they stacked state legislatures with kindred spirits who were only too happy to chip away at abortion rights year after year. They also recognized that this was an issue that ultimately rested with the Supreme Court. Thus, opposition to legal abortion became a litmus test for GOP presidential candidates. They had to vow to appoint anti-abortion justices, which they did.

Second, the right to legal abortion wasn’t lost overnight, and it won’t be won back in short order. The day after Roe was handed down, the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy began plotting ways to undermine the ruling. A few years later, they were joined by right-wing evangelical Protestants, Mormons and other extremely conservative religious groups. It took the members of this alliance half a century to achieve their goal, and in the process, they simply didn’t let up.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take fifty years to reestablish the right to safe and legal abortion, but you need to take a page from our opponents and gear up for a long grind.