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OPINION

Roe ruling turns back the clock

One day, the Supreme Court rules that the government has no right to tell someone they can’t carry a gun. The next day, it rules that the government does have the right to tell someone they must have a baby. How can that be?

A woman reacts to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization ruling in front of the US Supreme Court on Friday.Anna Moneymaker/Getty

It’s done. The Supreme Court has ended the constitutional right to an abortion.

There’s no real shock at the official ruling. The shock came with the leak of the draft opinion back in May, which in retrospect was an act of diabolical genius. It froze the vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, because any justice who switched from that draft opinion would look like they were reacting to public opinion. And it also resigned abortion rights supporters to the demise of Roe. Now, of course, there are passionate vows to fight. But in this moment, the battle is lost.

Hearing the news break on the radio as I was driving this morning left me feeling sad, empty, and angry. This ruling turns back the clock, away from equality and freedom of choice when it comes not just to women’s rights but also to the rights of all out-of-the-womb people. One day, the Supreme Court rules that the government has no right to tell someone they can’t carry a gun. The next day, it rules that the government does have the right to tell someone they must have a baby. How can that be? Yes, I get the originalist argument. There’s a Second Amendment that speaks directly to the right to bear arms and there’s no express language about a right to end a pregnancy. But this is all about twisting an interpretation of law to fit personal ideology. And the ideology of the conservatives on this court reflects a country that’s growing harder every day for a woman of a certain age to recognize.

Yet for me, there’s also an irony to my kick-in-the-gut reaction. I have always been personally if quietly ambivalent about abortion. I was a college student when Roe v. Wade was decided, so it has basically been part of the backdrop of my adult life. Could I have had an abortion? I don’t know. I was never in a position where I had to make that choice, but I always felt uncertain about my answer. Especially after I became a mother, I was uncomfortable with abortion rights advocates who saw no gray, just an absolute right, no hesitation allowed. I believe it’s a mistake not to recognize the complexity of the issue, and the emotion that goes with it. Technology and those ultrasounds that parents-to-be rejoice in showing off have changed the way we think about pregnancy and the meaning of life.

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Yet, if I had to vote, I would always come down on the side of the right to choose to have an abortion. I always knew that, and after this Supreme Court ruling, I know that now with even more certainty. When something is taken from you, that’s when you recognize the value of what is lost. What’s even scarier than this ruling is what it predicts about the future.

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The gains made over the past 40 years in all areas of civil rights are under threat of being eliminated, one by one. A concurring opinion in favor of the overturning of Roe, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, signals the possibility that Supreme Court rulings protecting contraception and same-sex marriage could also be overturned. Former vice president Mike Pence is now calling for a national abortion ban. That vision is not one I accept. That’s not a country I want to live in.

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If there’s one good thing that’s come out of this, it’s the realization that people like me can’t afford to be ambivalent. We must not only choose a side, but fight for it. For ourselves, for our sons and daughters, and for our country.


Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.