WASHINGTON—A draft U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion eliminating abortion rights angered women and pro-choice advocates and sparked a political war on both sides of what anti-abortionists have made their cultural issue keystone for 49 years.
“Hey, hey, ho, ho! Sam Alito has got to go!,” hundreds of protesters chanted in front of the Supreme Court on the night of May 2, after word of the draft, written by right-wing Justice Samuel Alito on behalf of the court’s Republican-named majority, spread. Politico obtained a copy of Alito’s draft.
The AFL-CIO and other unions did not immediately issue reactions. Working Families Party Director of Strategy Nelini Stamp did. WFP’s national committee includes reps from the Communications Workers and the Service Employees.
“This is the time to answer: ‘Which side are you on?’ No more fence-sitting. We must fight to defend abortion rights, which have already been eroded in many states,” Stamp said.
Alito called the original Roe v Wade decision 49 years ago “egregiously flawed from the start” and said it has no constitutional basis. The justices then grounded Roe on the right to privacy. Alito said there’s no such right in the nation’s basic charter.
“It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives,” Alito’s draft adds.
Planned Parenthood’s political arm took up that challenge, as one of three groups—with Emily’s List and the National Abortion Rights Action League—announcing a joint $150 million fundraising campaign to support pro-reproductive rights candidates this fall “at all levels” and vote abortion foes out.
“We have reached a crisis moment for abortion access because conservative politicians have engaged in a coordinated effort to control our bodies and our futures,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood’s chief. Alito’s draft is “outrageous” and “unprecedented.
“We must center those for whom stakes are highest, including people of color who have been most harmed by abortion bans and this generation of young people that could experience a future without the freedom to decide their own path forward,” she added.
“We will only be able to reclaim power when we send reproductive health champions to office at all levels of government, which is why this historic investment with our partners is so crucial. Let this be a warning to the out-of-touch politicians standing in the way of our reproductive freedom: People are watching. People are furious. And this November, the people will vote you out.”
Though abortion rights supporters did not say so, the court’s looming anti-abortion decision and/or state and federal abortion bans benefit the corporate class, which believes in oppressing workers’ wages, including woman workers’ wages, as well as workers’ rights.
By making abortion more difficult, if not impossible, a ban cuts women’s earning power by forcing unwanted pregnancies, which lead to unpaid time off and lower woman workers’ lifetime earnings. Those savings on workers’ pay and benefits go into the corporate class’s pockets.
The case Alito’s draft decides pits Mississippi’s last abortion clinic, in Jackson, against the Republican-run state’s ban on any abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Could set some limits
Under Roe, states could set some limits during the second trimester of pregnancy, as long as those limits did not impose “an undue burden” on women. There could be total bans in the third trimester.
Alito wrote his opinion should only apply to abortion. But if the past is precedent, the states will ignore Alito’s warning.
Some 26 states, all Republican-run, have abortion bans on the books or in waiting for the final ruling in the Mississippi case. Ballotpedia reports up to six will have the issue on referendum ballots this fall, including at least one constitutional ban.
And last year, the right-wing majority left in place Texas’s draconian law banning abortions after six weeks. Texas avoided federal court review—and rejection for violating Roe–by placing enforcement in the hands of private bounty-hunting right-wingers.
That led California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to announce that if Texas can put bounty-hunters in charge of banning abortions, California could, and would, do the same against the gun industry, enforcing a ban on assault weapons and “ghost guns.”
Separately, the Washington Post reported the anti-abortion movement is gearing up to try to outlaw abortion in all cases and for every woman. They’re counting on both the court’s ruling and a Republican takeover of Congress this fall to impose the nationwide abortion ban.
Right now, federal law, since the Republican-enacted Hyde Amendment in 1976, bans Medicaid funding of abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. The Guttmacher Institute, a Planned Parenthood arm, reports the Medicaid ban, which also covers federal workers and everyone in D.C. bans abortion coverage for at least 17.5 million women, 51% of them women of color.
“Our reproductive freedom is under immediate and direct threat,” NARAL President Mini Tammaraju responded. “This fight has never been more urgent.
“This is not a drill. We need to brace for a future where more and more people are punished and criminalized for seeking and providing abortion care.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment,” Tammaraju urged. Emergency donations, she said, will “help us mobilize voters across the country and elect leaders who’ll fight for our reproductive freedom rather than undermine it at every turn.”
“The Supreme Court appears to be on the cusp of a shocking attack on our basic rights,” Stamp of the Working Families Party elaborated. “The court is stripping women and people seeking abortions of the right to plan families and control their own bodies. People will be prosecuted and jailed for making personal health decisions.
“People with high-risk pregnancies will be denied care. And it is poor and working-class people who will suffer most. We must fight back in the halls of Congress, in state legislatures, and in the streets.
“The right-wing majority on the Supreme Court exists thanks to 20 years of Republicans exploiting the most undemocratic aspects of our political system, and to raw power grabs. Republican presidents appointed five of eight Supreme Court justices confirmed in that time, all of them members of the far-right, billionaire-funded Federalist Society.
Captured by the far right
“Now the court is captured by a narrow right-wing ideology far out of step with the vast majority of American people, and it is damaging its legitimacy through this decision.”
Politico reported the three Donald Trump-named Republican justices—Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett—plus long-standing extreme abortion foe Clarence Thomas back Alito’s draft decision.
The court’s three Democratic-named justices, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, presumably will dissent. Their draft didn’t leak. But in oral argument this past December on the Mississippi ban, Justice Sotomayor doubted the court’s legitimacy and credibility could survive if the majority overrules Roe.
The position of Chief Justice John Roberts, also conservative but an institutionalist leery of overruling past precedents, was unknown. By contrast, the right-wingers in general and Alito in particular overturn past precedents.
That’s what Alito did four years ago when he wrote for the Republican-named majority in the 5-4 ruling, Janus v AFSCME Council 31, overturning a 41-year-old High Court decision saying unions could, with state legislation, levy “agency fees” on millions of state and local government workers nationwide whom they represent but who are not members.
In overruling that precedent, Alito made those workers automatic “free riders,” able to use union services without paying one red cent for them. His decision to overrule Roe v Wade would impact millions of women by denying them reproductive choice.
Indeed, Congress’ top two Democratic leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said overruling Roe would harm everyone in the U.S. And “a woman’s right to choose is fundamental” Democratic President Joe Biden added.
He also urged lawmakers, again, to approve House-passed legislation, the Women’s Health Protections Act, writing Roe v Wade into federal law. The Republican filibuster threat in the evenly split Senate has marooned that bill.
Biden also said his “administration will be ready when any ruling is issued,” but he did not specify what pro-abortion and pro-reproductive rights moves it would undertake.
Other progressives made the same point about passing the legislation, with Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., adding in a tweet that if the evenly split Senate refuses to do so, bowing to the Republican filibuster threat, it’s time to eliminate the filibuster.
“Congress must pass legislation that codifies Roe v. Wade as the law of the land in this country NOW,” Sanders tweeted. “And if there aren’t 60 votes in the Senate to do it, and there are not, we must end the filibuster to pass it with 50 votes.”
The catch to that plan is the two renegade Democrats, Arizonan Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginian Joe Manchin, who support keeping filibusters going—against everything.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted the court majority “isn’t just coming for abortion. They’re coming for the right to privacy Roe rests on, which includes same sex marriage + civil rights.
“Manchin is blocking Congress codifying Roe,” Ocasio-Cortez’s second tweet added, not mentioning Sinema. “House has seemingly forgotten about Clarence Thomas. These two points must change.”
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.