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Roe Is No More 6 min read

Roe Is No More

A collection of writings and podcasts working to process the reversal of Roe v. Wade that took away a constitutional right.

By Cary Littlejohn
Roe Is No More Post image

This week saw a huge change to the legal landscape of America. Though we knew it was coming since a leak draft of the opinion was leaked in May, the Supreme Court reversed Roe vs. Wade, effectively erasing a constitutional right to abortion that had been recognized for 50 years.

I wrote about the leaked opinion then, and I focused on how ugly it was. The published opinion remains ugly, with few, if any, substantive changes being made in the intervening weeks.

This one has the added complications of concurring opinions, one more concerning than the others. Justice Thomas would have the Court reconsider (and discard as it did with Roe) the right to same-sex marriage, the right to same-sex sexual relations, and the right to contraception.

A friend told me she viewed the day as being akin to a Columbine or 9/11 in the sense that the day after represented a whole new reality, a world that had changed. There’s truth to that statement, but the difference is profound: Fellow Americans, a sizable number of them, weren’t celebrating after those events like they were on Friday.

It’s worth reminding people for whom the decision was seen as a victory what it guarantees, for if they think it simply means more babies brought into the world, they would be tragically shortsighted.

As a baseline, look no further than the women in your life, those you love and hold dear, those for whom you want nothing but the best this world has to offer.

They are the reason to be pro-choice. Because it’s what they deserve.

They deserve your listening ear when they tell you what they need and want for their lives, and they deserve to make those decisions without any unwanted thumbs on the scale.

For men, there is no medical issue that could arise, save for possibly the desire to end one’s life earlier than nature’s appointed time, that would see the state interfere in such a personal decision. There is no comparison for men that can rival pregnancy, yet for too long men have been the legislators who’ve laid down the laws to dictate the lives of those they viewed as second-class citizens, unable to determine their own destinies and unworthy of our thoughtful deference.

For women, it’s helpful to remember that one size rarely, if ever, fits all, and your body’s response to a pregnancy, your doctor’s advice, your life plans and circumstances, your financial stability, the availability of help to which you might have access, to name a few considerations, do not mean your sister, your neighbor, your coworker have those same conditions in their lives. And even if they did, your decision is not binding on them, no more than theirs would be on you.

So many people will leap to defense of the unborn and suggest their hands are tied when it comes to the issue of choice; “what about the unborn baby?” they’ll say.

To which I say with all honesty: I don’t know what to tell you.

My goal in writing this is not to change minds or argue over the merits of one’s religious beliefs. I have my own beliefs, rooted in science and highly deferential to the doctors and experts who rely on that same science to administer vaccines or treat me when I’m sick or (hopefully not) operate on my bones or internal organs.

But those beliefs are not why I don’t know what to say in response to what is surely an earnest question.

It’s because I don’t see how I could prioritize that question over any of the women in my life. I may not have an answer to that question, but those women can ask (and answer) just as meaningful a question: What about her?

I choose to let her answer. I choose to support her in her decision. I choose to exercise my right to vote in support of candidates who would make that choice applicable not just to the women I know, but to all of them.

If I had my choice, those women would have theirs. I’m hopeful they will again.

Ten Worth Your Time

  1. Read the opinion for yourself. Never hurts to check out primary sources as you seek clarity on what exactly was decided and for what reasons.

  2. Perhaps, after those 200+ pages of dense legalese, someone walking through the decision with you could help clear things up. The New York Times’ Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak on a special Saturday episode of The Daily gives a great 35,000-foot view.

  3. Don’t forget that this decision affects real people. Here’s an account in The New Yorker of a Texas abortion clinic on Friday morning, its final hours of operating under the Roe v. Wade.

  4. In that same vein, listen to this episode of The New York Times podcast The Daily from Monday that talks with four women from four different clinics (one from my beloved Knoxville, Tennessee) on the day Roe was overturned.

  5. Here is a beautiful bit of reporting and story-finding by the L.A. Times. In the aftermath of the leaked then-draft opinion from Justice Samuel Alito, staff writer Brittny Mejia began reporting and researching a story that anticipated the end of Roe v. Wade. She and her team of fellow journalists did so by going back to its beginning. In fact, they went back even further than that, to a case with California connections that paved the way for Roe in the first place.

  6. The brilliant women of the Strict Scrutiny podcast try to make sense of the end of Roe. Roe is dead. Now what?

  7. One of my favorite story package types in magazines is simply going to multiple writers and asking for them to write what they will on a particular topic. I just recently subscribed to the New York Review of Books, and they took that approach: They asked five writers to reflect on and respond to the leaked opinion that previewed the downfall of Roe, which is now reality.

  8. Access to abortion was a big theme in this year’s collection of films at Sundance. I remember vividly the experience of watching the French film Happening by Audrey Diwan. The logline for the film is short and simple: “Annie, a bright young student, is facing an unwanted pregnancy in 1960s France, when abortion is still illegal.” In May, a Rolling Stone headline captured perfectly why my mind turned to the film over this weekend: “‘Happening’: France’s Abortion Drama Is Now 2022’s Most Urgent Movie.” I couldn't agree more. The discomfort that will follow watching Annie's plight should come with the knowledge of this simple fact: Annie's story will now be countless American women's stories.

  9. Annalee Newitz took to Slate to marvel that a science fiction book she published in 2019 seems to have come to life. Newitz describes her book this way: “A few months before COVID shut the world down in 2020, I published a book called The Future of Another Timeline. Set in 2022, it’s about a group of time travelers who live in an alternate United States where abortion was never legalized. Working in secret, they travel 130 years back to the 19th century to foment protests against the anti-abortion crusader  Anthony Comstock. Their goal is to change the course of history. Spoilers: They succeed—sort of. When they return to 2022, abortion is legal in a few states, though it remains illegal in the majority of them.” But the poignancy of her article is summed up in the headline: My 2019 Sci-Fi Novel Was About a U.S. Where Abortion Is Illegal in 2022. But I Didn’t Predict the Future.

  10. Last week I celebrated my new project, and I credited it to my mentor/professor from graduate school. It was in his class that I was first assigned the essay, “We Do Abortions Here,” which was published in Harper’s in October 1987, two months before I was born.  It was written by Sallie Tisdale, a practicing nurse at an abortion clinic. Her writing is crisp and visceral and literary, and it was a powerful piece that I remember to this day for the effect it had on me as I read it. And now, I find myself thinking about that simple, declaratory title — We Do Abortions Here — and realize that the clinic, if it still exists, very well might not  be able to justify a personal essay with that title anymore.

Culture Diary

Here’s a collection of what I’ve been watching in the past week (compared to my usual entries, you can tell how much time all of this work for DETOUR is taking up).

Remember: The legend for my list was stolen from Mr. Soderbergh, where ALL CAPS represents a movie, Sentence Case is a TV show, ALL CAPS ITALICS is a short film, and Italics is a book. A number in parentheses after a TV show highlights how many episodes I watched. An asterisk after an entry means it’s a rewatch. The source of the movie or show, whether streaming service, physical media, or in theaters, is shown in parentheses as well.

6/20: TOP GUN: MAVERICK* (Theater [Dolby Atmos]); JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION (Theater)
6/22: LIGHTYEAR (Theater); Obi-Wan Kenobi (Disney+)
6/23: SPIDERHEAD (Netflix)
6/26: Westworld, S4 (HBO Max)

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