An American girl born this week will have fewer rights than an American girl born in 1973. This is the likely import of the leaked US Supreme Court draft opinion on abortion rights – and cause for a huge thank-you-very-much to all those guys who suggested that women marching on Washington in January 2017 were “over-reacting” to the election of Donald Trump. Please make sure to tell women again when they are being over-emotional – even as they sit and watch one of Trump’s justice picks scream and sob his way through his own confirmation hearings.
In the meantime, resign yourself to yet another “quirk” of the looking-glass world Trump has created. Of course – OF COURSE – women’s access to abortion would end up being restricted or removed by the deliberate decisions of a man widely imagined to have personally helped to keep the Manhattan abortion sector afloat for decades.
I’m kidding, of course! We have absolutely no idea whether abortion services have or haven’t ever been accessed by anyone connected with a draft-avoider who described avoiding STDs in the 80s as “my personal Vietnam”. “That’s an interesting question,” Trump replied to The New York Times when asked, during the 2016 campaign, if he’d ever been involved with a woman who had undergone a termination during their relationship. “What’s your next question?”
It must be nice for reproductive rights to be an “interesting question” you have absolutely no interest in answering. As ever, it feels as the levers of power are pulled by those with no skin in the game at the expense of those with an entire uterus in it. Once again, then, a huge bravo to all the extremely rational guys whose “conscience” simply declined to permit them to vote for Hillary Clinton, on the basis that she and Trump were basically “the same”. Women now facing same-old same-old prospects like forced birth and wildly increased medical risks can only thank you and your consciences for doing the hard intellectual yards so they don’t have to.
When news of the Supreme Court draft opinion broke Monday night, Clinton stated: “This decision is a direct assault on the dignity, rights, & lives of women, not to mention decades of settled law. It will kill and subjugate women even as a vast majority of Americans think abortion should be legal. What an utter disgrace.” We’ve yet to hear Trump’s response – very, very samey, I imagine – so let’s use as a placeholder his 2011 statement on the subject: “I am pro-life, and pro-life people will find out that I will be very loyal to them, just as I am loyal to other people. I would be appointing judges that feel the way I feel.” Can’t believe he ended up appointing pro-life judges. If only there’d been some clue his daffy media cheerleaders could have latched on to.
It must be nice for reproductive rights to be an “interesting question” you have absolutely no interest in answering.
For those whose interest in reproductive rights is not cerebral but personal and physical – that is, women – there’s a mirthless laugh to be had at some of the reaction to the leak. A lot of people are infinitely more horrified by the Supreme Court’s information security lapse than they are by the information itself. Please take time to appreciate the angry ranting of right-wing pundits who cannot believe the justices’ right to make private decisions has been appallingly violated, and that the fricking LEAK is “the gravest, most unforgivable sin”. Their court, their choice, OK?
Out there in the real world beyond, we know from experience abortions will still happen, whether they are outlawed or not – by some accounts, pretty much the same number of abortions. But illegal abortions will mean that many more women will die from the procedure, which is a funny way of being “pro-life”. But there we are.
And of course, should this seismic ruling come to pass, it will only be the start of it, with a number of other rights now under threat again. Marriage rights, contraception, racial freedom – you’d need to be a gullible fool or highly paid star news commentator to think assaults on these aren’t all on the table again. During her confirmation hearings, Amy Coney Barrett wouldn’t even say if she thought IVF treatment was constitutional, which gives you a sense of how deeply backward things could be starting to get.
Yet, in some ways, it’s the things that actually were said during the confirmation hearings that illustrate the rot most clearly, with Trump’s new justices saying a lot of stuff that now turns out to have meant about as much as one of his promises. We’re looking at a court where justices are no longer particularly different from politicians – both will say any old shit to get elected or confirmed. In the infrequently lucid moments that peppered his truly deranged performance during his confirmation hearings, Brett Kavanaugh suggested Roe v Wade was settled law, that has been affirmed down the decades by “precedent on precedent”. And now look. I wonder what else in his confirmation hearings he might not have been being entirely candid about.
For her part, Coney Barrett assured senators her own personal beliefs were absolutely irrelevant, and in no way likely to lead to the undoing of laws, joking: “It’s not the law of Amy. It’s the law of the American people.” It’s looking quite like the law of Amy today, all things considered. As the highly predictable majority opinion on Roe v Wade makes landfall, then, spare a thought for supposedly pro-choice Republican senator Susan Collins, who held the deciding vote on Kavanaugh, and who was apparently absolutely satisfied after two long private meetings with him back in 2018 that Roe was safe in his hands. “I’m not naive,” she explained. Susan: it seems like you’re sensationally, historically, implausibly naive.
So here we are again. Today, there is a sense that even restating the arguments feels like something pro-choice women have been doing every day of every decade since they apparently won the argument. We can all understand the political imperative to talk of Roe v Wade as “settled law”, but the honest assessment from most pro-choice American women you care to talk to is that it has never felt truly settled. Women’s rights and autonomies should be their inheritance; instead, they’re just another rented thing they could be evicted from or priced out of at any moment.
Far from being “liberated”, American women are in an abusive relationship with partisan lawmakers in which no sense of security is even close to permanent, and nothing is given that cannot be taken away at any point. Abortion rights have never been allowed to feel like a life goal achieved. Instead, defending them has remained a hugely consuming way of life for a huge number of women. What a vast, intensely limiting drain on their energy and human potential, which is presumably the attraction for those who seek to keep them down. You can be “pro-life”, or pro-living – but you can’t be both.
Marina Hyde is a London-based columnist at The Guardian, where she writes about current affairs, Hollywood, and sports