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Solomon Jones is a columnist for the The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The U.S. Supreme Court is on the cusp of striking down Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that guaranteed federal protections of abortion rights, and my mind is flooded with thoughts of how this happened and what it means.
To be clear, I am not in favor of abortion, but I am also against tying my political decisions to a single issue that does not personally affect me. I am a man. I will never have an abortion, and I will never know the emotional turmoil that a woman experiences when terminating a pregnancy.
That’s why my view of the draft majority opinion that was written by Justice Samuel Alito and leaked to Politico is about much more than abortion. It is about the consequences of elections, men exerting control over women, and the evil that has been carried out in America in the name of a seemingly innocuous phrase: state’s rights.
Alito’s opinion, which was drafted in February, is not final, but for anyone with even a moderate understanding of American history, it should be chilling.
“The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each state from regulating or prohibiting abortion,” Alito wrote in the draft opinion. “Roe and (Planned Parenthood v. Casey) arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives.”
Substitute the word slavery for abortion and you are instantly transported back to 1857, when the Dred Scott decision denied Black people the right to citizenship. In that case, the plaintiff, Scott, an enslaved man who had lived in a U.S. territory where slavery was outlawed, sued for his freedom. In doing so, he argued that once he was in a free territory, he could not be returned to a slave state. His case went to the Supreme Court, where he lost when the court decided that Black people were not citizens and therefore had no standing to sue.
Though Chief Justice Roger Taney’s majority opinion in the Dred Scott case is famous for the line that said the Black man “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” the case also highlights the ways in which the differences in state laws can revictimize those who are already oppressed.
“State’s rights” was a rallying cry for Southern states that fought to keep Black people enslaved during the Civil War. When they lost, those same states leaned on that phrase to justify Jim Crow laws that created and maintained systems of segregation. Even now, conservatives cite their love of state’s rights while falsely labeling Black history as critical race theory and banning discussions of racism in the classroom. State’s rights also keep police reform from being implemented locally. And in the wake of the 2013 Supreme Court decision that scuttled the Voting Rights Act of 1965, state’s rights have paved the way for voter suppression laws in Georgia, Texas and beyond.
All of which brings me back to the plight of women as the court prepares to strike down their federally protected right to abortion. This imminent ruling means that women will now be subject to the whims of state’s rights in ways that Black people have always been. And while this new condition will likely be felt most deeply by women of color and poor women, I am most interested in how middle-class white women view this latest development.
White women, after all, helped to set the stage for this decision. Fifty-two percent of them voted for Donald Trump in 2016. They did so knowing that Trump had been accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women. They voted for him despite the existence of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged about grabbing women by their genitals and being allowed to do so because he was a celebrity.
Now some of the same white women who fought hard for abortion rights, yet voted for Trump, are going to learn that elections have consequences. They are going to learn that by choosing whiteness over womanhood and giving Trump the opportunity to nominate three Supreme Court justices, they are going to lose the very rights they fought for.
However, this is not just about women. Nor is it singularly about abortion. This is about all of us. Because if conservatives can hide behind state’s rights to snatch freedoms from the very people who supported them, imagine what they will try to take from the rest of us.