The decision last Friday by the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse Roe v. Wade is a serious setback for human rights and the rule of law. Combined with the Court’s overturning on Thursday of New York City’s 100-year-old handgun ordinance, and its earlier rulings undermining Miranda rights and secular education, it’s clear that a partisan court, untethered from history and legal precedent, has chosen to wage war against both justice and democracy.
These are the kinds of rulings that occur in courts in “illiberal” states like Hungary and Poland, or former fascist ones. Recent legislation in Missouri, Texas, and Louisiana, intended to impose prison sentences on abortion providers, prevent out of state abortions, and even punish friends and family who help women obtain abortions, harken back to similar laws in Nazi Germany. In 1943, already stringent laws forbidding abortion – except when one partner was “of impure blood” — were strengthened: “A woman who kills her fetus or permits such a killing by another will be punished by a prison sentence…. Whoever else kills the fetus of a pregnant woman will be also punished by prison. If the perpetrator… continuously impairs the vitality of the German Volk, the death penalty can be imposed.” Laws already on the books in Louisiana, Texas, Indiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee would, under certain circumstances, allow abortion providers to be charged with murder. All those states have death penalties.
And there is more bad news coming from the Supreme Court. This week, the court is likely to hand down a ruling restricting the EPA and other federal agencies from regulating the release into the atmosphere of CO2, methane and other global greenhouse gases and pollutants. The stakes in that case are nothing less than civilizational. The U.S. is by far the leading, per capita emitter of global warming gases (twice the rate of China). Unless we halt their release, and further regulate energy and industrial production, we haven’t a chance of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C or even 2.0°C. The human consequences of a heat increase beyond that already high threshold are catastrophic, according to the most recent IPCC reports.
The ruling overturning Roe means that women in more than a half of all U.S. states will now no longer have full, bodily autonomy. Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and Texas, among other states, have already passed draconian restrictions. In all three, anti-abortion laws are accompanied by the collapse of public health systems. In each, maternal mortality rates are significantly higher than the national average; in Texas, twice as high; in Louisiana almost four times. There is a racial disparity as well. In Georgia and Mississippi, Black women are more than twice as likely to die in pregnancy as white women. With this abortion ruling, many more women will die.
The Democratic Party is recommending that Americans vote in large numbers against the politicians who have been complicit in the judicial appointments that made these rulings possible. I agree. But the Democrats themselves have failed for decades to inscribe reproductive rights in law. They have also failed to act to curb climate change, prevent gun violence, ensure access to secular education, and protect the rights of the accused. Therefore, much more than just voting against Republicans in November is required. The leaders of women’s and human rights organizations large and small, as well as environmental organizations need to organize en masse to demand radical reform of the U.S Supreme Court, immediate congressional action to restore a woman’s right to choose abortion, protection from guns, police accountability, and immediate, consequential action on climate change. These protests and rallies must escalate with time and become more and more militant in tactics until they succeed. Now more than ever, organization, collaboration, solidarity, and action are demanded.