Roe v Gorsuch: The Worst-Case Scenario

Abortion - Roe v. Wade

Thanks to some despicable behavior by the self-styled “moralists” and millions of Koch brother dollars, Neil Gorsuch is now the newest Supreme Court Justice. Aside from occupying Merrick Garland’s seat and a worrisome tendency to favor the arguments of corporate and “religious” litigants, what is the worst thing that can happen?

He manages to get Roe v. Wade overturned.

What would happen then?

Several red states would immediately pass laws making abortion illegal, something the Constitution currently prevents. Other states, however, would leave the decision where it belongs – with the woman, her family and her doctor. Women living in states prohibiting abortion – those who could afford it – would travel to states where it remained legal, and would have their abortions there. Others would go back to the remedies available in the “good old days” – coat hangers and dangerous “potions” – and many of them would die or become sterile.

Hopefully, there would be groups formed to raise money to cover the costs of poor women’s travel to states where abortion remained legal. We might expect the war on Planned Parenthood to abate somewhat – or at least devolve to the states – since the national anti-choice movement wouldn’t have Roe to kick around any more.

The political tsunami, however, would be the most interesting consequence of such a decision.

Survey research confirms that substantial majorities of Americans do not want to see Roe overturned. They may or may not support a woman’s choice to terminate her pregnancy, but they are appropriately leery of allowing government to dictate that decision. It is only a rabid anti-choice constituency that has maintained the political potency of reproductive choice as an issue. (I have a sneaking suspicion that most of these folks believe overturning Roe would end abortion in the U.S. It wouldn’t; it would simply leave the issue up to the states.)

Research suggests that anti-choice citizens are far more likely to be single-issue voters than pro-choice Americans. But that could change once a right that has been taken for granted is revoked. Pro-choice voters–especially women, who are already more likely to vote Democratic – would be more than irate; they would blame the GOP for the loss of reproductive liberty, and would be very likely to vote in even greater numbers against a party that so vividly demonstrated its contempt for women’s right to self-determination.

Anyone who participated in the Women’s March on Washington–in the nation’s capital, or in any of the multitude of other venues–and looked out over the sea of “pussy hats,” saw the signs being carried and heard the passionate speeches being made–understands the extent of the fury that would be unleashed by a Supreme Court retreat from Roe v. Wade. Anti-choice activists have been a (generally marginal albeit important) asset to theocratic Republican candidates, but the pro-choice legions that would erupt after such a Court decision would create political blow back of massive proportions.

The GOP has used the issue of abortion to turn out a relatively small but very intense constituency in election after election.

If Roe is gone, the national GOP will no longer be able to rely on the issue of abortion to generate turnout, or to obscure or outweigh the party’s retrograde positions on other issues. If decisions about the legality of abortion devolve to the state level, the passions will also devolve. Some states will respect women’s right to autonomy, some will not. But in the absence of Roe v. Wade, abortion would lose its potency as a national right-wing wedge issue.

And Democrats would solidify their position as the party protecting and promoting women’s rights.

Republicans should be careful what they wish for.

 

[Originally published at SheilaKennedy.net on April 13, 2017]

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net. For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..

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