Don’t Use Racial Equality to Justify Overturning Roe v. Wade
SToday, eighty-eight year ago, the Supreme Court released the Brown v. Board of Education landmark decision. This ruling overturned previous precedents and banned segregation from public schools. This ruling catalyzed progress in racial relations across America, dismantling barriers that were not only discriminatory but also opened up opportunities for all Americans.
This was an important decision for the country. But today, it’s being used as a weapon to justify the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade. The recently leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court notes that “when one of our constitutional decisions goes astray, the country is usually stuck with the decision until we correct our own mistake.” The opinion then points to Brown as a shining example of a decision that overturned a bad precedent.
This isn’t the first time this comparison has been made. Brown was also mentioned during oral arguments as an example of past court rulings being overturned.
This argument is legally invalid and insulting. We’ll start on the legal side.
For context, my organization—the Mississippi Center for Justice—is co-counsel on the case before the Supreme Court, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Dobbs and Brown have important differences. The first is that Brown extended rights while repealing abortion would remove rights. The Supreme Court generally overturns an earlier ruling to expand rights. Roe could be overturned. This would mark the beginning of a new era in American history, as it would remove a right that’s been in place for longer than 50 years. According to John Hopkins Professor Stacey B. Lee.
Brown was second. Most believe the Dobbs vote will result in a 5-4 vote that would overturn Roe. This means that one swing vote could change decades worth of court rulings supporting Roe v. Wade.
The third was that oral arguments suggested the Constitution’s neutrality on the issue of abortion. Accordingly, the States or legislatures should decide. But that’s laughable. Our Constitution specifically takes a stance on protecting people’s liberty and rights. In fact, that’s precisely the reason why the Court ruled in favor of Brown. If they had bought into the neutrality argument our schools would have remained segregated.
Fourth, let’s get to why the connection to Brown is so morally reprehensible. Brown dismantled one the most racist aspects of our history. It would have been impossible to live in Jim Crow America today if the bill had not been passed. It would have led to a segregated and unequal life.
Now, it’s being suggested that the Brown decision is in some way equivalent to removing a woman’s right to make decisions about her body. That’s disgraceful. It will do nothing to uplift or increase equality. Instead, women will find themselves in greater poverty. There will be more women out of work. Women will also suffer from adverse health effects.
Contrary to Brown’s impact on opening access to equitable education, with a ruling to strip women of the right to health and bodily autonomy, women of color would face the most horrendous impacts. These women are most likely to get trapped in poverty and be excluded from the education system and workforce. Research also shows that an abortion ban could increase pregnancy-related deaths among Black women by 33 percent—when they already face dangerously high maternal mortality rates.
Brown was a major turning point in our nation’s devastating legacy of inequality and discrimination. Overturning Roe would be the opposite—fueling racism and undermining our fundamental liberties.
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