Thrones, Dominions, Principalities, Powers

There are three levels on which one can respond to the claim that abortion has now been “sent back to the states.”

First, one can point out that many states have been so gerrymandered by Republican state legislators (aided by the same Republican justices who just sent abortion “back to the states”) that their governments are not remotely answerable to the people. Republicans at all levels have abandoned any effort to appeal to, or respond to the will of, the majority; as long as gerrymandering, the Senate, the Electoral College, and the Supreme Court supermajority allow them to hold power irrespective of whether they get the most votes, they will do what they like and piously intone that we are “a republic, not a democracy” (which, being translated, means “we get to run things no matter what, fuck you”).

Second, one can bring up the inconvenient truth that the next Republican trifecta will in fact take abortion away from the states again by passing or attempting to pass a federal abortion ban. Whether they’ll succeed I don’t know, but acting like they couldn’t or they won’t try is ridiculous. One of the concurrences today even pointed in that direction, because for the contemporary right, half the fun is in winking at the obvious falseness of your lies even as you call your opponent uncivil for not believing them.

Third, and most morally significant, to say that an issue should be sent back to the states is to frame it as an issue on which all possible opinions are equally valid. This is the same sort of nauseating faux broad-mindedness that inspires people to attack the deplatforming of empty-headed bigots. When you say that someone who mocks trans people “is entitled to their opinion,” you mean that you are basically ok with the belief that trans people are subhuman even if you wouldn’t go that far yourself. Likewise, when you say that abortion is now “in the hands of the states where it belongs,” you mean that you’re basically OK with women dying from lack of medical care even if you yourself would rather they didn’t have to.

When basic issues of public health are at stake, as they are when you allow sweeping abortion bans with no health exceptions, appeals to diversity of opinion are monstrous. The dishonest crux of the “back to the states” framing is its implication that Roe, a nuanced decision that gave states a good deal of authority to set their own restrictions, was some kind of federal jackboot. The denial of bodily autonomy to women in today’s decision is far more authoritarian than Roe could ever have been. The problem is that the actual extremism of the Republican position on abortion has been so normalized that the national discourse has warped around it, making “I won’t raise a finger to stop women dying, but I’ll furrow my brow about it when it happens” the sensible moderate position. For the moment, anyway; as Republicans gear up for attacks on contraception, we should all get ready for Susan Collins to primly declare that while she thinks a total ban on birth control pills is going too far, she can’t vote for the Democratic bill that protects contraception access because it’s just so darn liberal. I keep trying to find a less depressing thought on which to end this post, but I don’t think today’s the day for that.


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