Just days before the historic ruling that threatens to tear apart an already fiercely divided America, it emerged that employees at abortion clinics were being taught how to search for bombs and deal with ‘active shooters’.
Such is the vehemence of the abortion issue in the US that a debate about protecting life – as opponents of abortion have always framed it – long ago became one about preventing death.
At least 11 people, including four doctors and a policeman, have been killed in violence against abortion providers over the decades.
A celebration outside the Supreme Court, Friday, June 24, in Washington. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court’s landmark abortion cases
‘America’s most senior judges have ensured that this country’s deep polarisation will worsen’, says Tom Leonard
The other side – the Pro-Choice movement – has also shown it could resort to such methods.
Earlier this month, shortly after news first leaked that the conservative-dominated Supreme Court was likely to overturn the landmark Roe vs Wade ruling, a man armed with a gun and a knife was arrested near the home of one of the court’s justices, Brett Kavanaugh, after making threats.
Prosecutors said the man, Nicholas Roske, was ‘upset’ and decided to kill one of the conservative judges he held responsible. How many more may now prove similarly ‘upset’? For some, this is a war and it is likely to spread.
By deciding there is no constitutional right to abortion and that laws can be decided by individual states, America’s most senior judges have ensured that this country’s deep polarisation will worsen. Not least because the Supreme Court justices have made it clear that yesterday’s decision could open the door for courts to overturn a range of hard-won civil rights.
‘In future cases, we should reconsider all of this court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence and Obergefell,’ wrote Justice Clarence Thomas, referring to decisions on contraception, gay sex and same-sex marriage.
Liberal members of the Supreme Court echoed that warning, saying in their dissent that ‘no one should be confident that this majority is done with its work’.
With barricades going up around the court and protesters demonstrating outside the homes of its conservative members, a secretive group calling itself Jane’s Revenge has been distributing menacing flyers around Washington DC.
Headed ‘DC call to Action Night of Rage’, the flyers threated a ‘riot’ and added: ‘To our oppressors, if our abortions aren’t safe, you’re not either.’
Jane’s Revenge has claimed responsibility for destructive attacks against pro-Life ‘pregnancy-crisis centres’ – which try to persuade women not to have terminations – across the US. Abortion providers across America have been preparing for this moment – and for the tens of thousands of women who will now have to travel to clinics where state laws still protect termination procedures.
President Joe Biden, whose dismal approval ratings have now dipped below 40 per cent and whose party is expected to fare badly in November’s mid-term elections, had seen a ray of hope for the Democrats in the expected Supreme Court decision. ‘Even people who are not pro-choice are going to find it really, really off the wall when a woman goes across a state line [to get an abortion] and she gets arrested,’ he has said.
Referring to Republicans who have backed the abortion clampdown (one of them, ex-Vice President Mike Pence yesterday proclaimed: ‘Today, life won’), the President added: ‘There are so many things these guys are doing that are out of the mainstream of where the public is.’
While there is some truth in that – polls have consistently shown most Americans didn’t want Roe vs Wade overturned – a majority do favour some restriction on access to abortions.
‘If abortions aren’t safe, neither are you’: Earlier this month, shortly after news first leaked that the conservative-dominated Supreme Court was likely to overturn the landmark Roe vs Wade ruling, a man armed with a gun and a knife was arrested near the home of one of the court’s justices, Brett Kavanaugh, after making threats.
And just as the argument of pro-choice campaigners hinges on the unalienable right of women to choose what to do with their own bodies, many of those opposing abortion see their stance as a non-negotiable article of religious faith. A 2019 poll found 38 per cent of Americans believe life begins at conception, with that proportion rising to 75 per cent among Republican women.
So Mr Biden – who believes that ‘a woman’s right to choose is fundamental’ – is deluded if he thinks that yesterday’s decision will trigger a backlash by outraged Republicans. It was Donald Trump who pledged to overturn Roe v Wade before being swept to power in 2016.
In fact it was the main reason that many Christian conservatives overcame their distaste for his tawdry personal behaviour and voted for him. And he has delivered. The fact that he was able to appoint three conservative judges during his presidency was key to yesterday’s decision.
The Democrats have promised to fight the Supreme Court decision tooth and nail but their political options are limited. What happens next is not entirely clear beyond the fact that 13 US states have already passed ‘trigger laws’ that automatically ban abortion if Roe vs Wade is overturned. Others – about half of all US states – are expected to quickly do the same.
People protest in response to the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, June 24 in Washington, DC. The Court’s decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health overturns the landmark 50-year-old Roe v Wade case and erases a federal right to an abortion
‘In total, abortion access is expected to be cut off for about 36 million women, according to research from Planned Parenthood’, writes Tom Leonard
In total, abortion access is expected to be cut off for about 36million women, according to research from Planned Parenthood. Pro-Choice activists have warned that the poorest women will inevitably be hit hardest as they will be least able to travel to another state or take time off work. In response, several Democrat-held states have promised to increase their funding of abortion to become ‘abortion sanctuary states’. What is not in doubt is the increasingly febrile nature of this issue. Even after the Roe vs Wade decision guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion in 1973, conservative states limited access to abortion clinics and pushed through laws to restrict access.
In Missouri, there is just one abortion clinic and a (female) politician has introduced a new bill to ban the distribution of abortion pills and to allow private lawsuits against anyone who knowingly helps a woman to cross state lines to seek a termination.
Texas has similar laws, encouraging citizens to earn a $10,000 bounty by filing a lawsuit against anyone who performs an abortion, assists in one – or, indeed, even looks like performing one in the future. More states will follow. There has even been speculation that authorities will start to monitor women’s activity online to discover if they are pregnant and seeking abortions illegally.
Right to life or right to choose? How Americans choose to see abortion has never been more consequential.