Lily Tomlin famously quipped, “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.” I was reminded of this quote when I saw how those Republican-appointed Supreme Court Justices lied during their confirmation hearings about respecting precedent and then went right ahead and overturned Roe v. WadeThe 1973 abortion legalization decision.
I am not shocked that it happened – feminists have warned about this for years — but still, I wasn’t quite prepared for how far they would go, resurrecting the banner of “states’ rights,” which, of course, is the mendacity that sparked the Civil War, threatening precedents regarding LGBTQ rights, access to contraception, and more. But then I also didn’t expect fugitive slave laws to be resurrected for bounty hunters reporting on people obtaining or providing abortions. I didn’t expect that after weekly gun violence massacres that the Supreme Court would reject reasonable gun restrictions.
This revanchist movement I think is the last chance for a population that has lost its way. They are trying to win the Civil War again. It has been a surprise to me that heartless judges and politicians need to be seen differently. It’s not that they don’t know that women will suffer and die. It’s that they don’t care. Their belief is that unintended babies should not be conceived by sexually active women. This is an issue that cannot be resolved by simply telling more stories about abortion.
Good news: I’ve been surprised in the past, which gives me hope. Eleanor Smeal was the president of the National Organization for Women in 1985. She told her staff she would organize the first ever NOW-national abortion-rights marche. She reasoned that too many politicians–both Democrats and Republicans–privately supported abortion rights but were afraid to say so. If they stood for women, we had to prove that our constituents supported them. They had to be able to publically declare that they were pro-choice.
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I was the director of NOW’s women of color program then, and I was skeptical. I didn’t believe that enough people would march for abortion rights. In the Black community, we were still calling it the “A-word.” Too many Black Christians believed that abortion was a sin. Black misogynists referred to it as self-genocide. Even though Black women received a large number of abortions in America, this was true. (We still do – in 2019, 38% of all women who had abortions were non-Hispanic Black women.)
Fortunately, Eleanor didn’t heed my doubts, and in March 1986, more than 80,000 people showed up at the first March for Women’s Lives. Millions of people have been engaged in marches organized by feminists, both nationally and internationally.
While we have a good idea of what Republicans can do, we also know our capabilities. Robert Bork’s 1987 nomination failed, indicating that Republicans wanted to appoint an Associate Justice to the Supreme Court. Roe. His nomination was defeated by civil rights and feminist leaders.
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We continue to warn against attacks since then. Roe while many called us Cassandras, predicting a dystopian future that they didn’t think would come to pass. They told us we were overreacting by calling it a “War on Women.” We were called hysterical—a frequent slur against women who stand up for themselves. Even some of our alleged allies who deemed themselves pro-choice “Independents” or Bernie Sanders supporters tried to claim there was little difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016. Our belief that elections matter was accused of us being too naive. We now have five Justices to the Court that are willing to do the same thing Bork did not get the chance to. Hillary could justifiably say, “I told you so!”
In this precarious and tragic situation we must both march to the streets and vote. It’s not an “either/or” strategy; it’s an “and-and-and.” As one feminist song says, “When women are screwed, we multiply!” We have to again stiffen the spines of the politicians who claim they care about human rights. It is up to us to make them pay for their failure to act in the past to safeguard abortion rights and expand the Supreme Court. We also need to repeal the Hyde Amendment which limits federal funds being used to fund abortions. It is time to replace politicians who ask for our support and then behave like we are prom dates, forgetting our names next day.
As a symbol of the historic moment, we must remember that young people stood up for injustice despite knowing they could lose everything. Can we be at least as brave as those young Black students in the 1950s and ‘60s who knew they would be spit upon, beaten, and water hosed for standing up for civil rights?
Continue reading: With Roe Gone, Here’s How to Save Abortion Rights
It is a mistake to believe that everything important happened before your birth. The entire chain of freedom is not ours. This chain extends from our ancestors through our descendants. Our job is to be the strongest link that we can be and ensure the chain doesn’t break with us.
Because I’ve been a community organizer for more than 50 years, I believe that the moral arc of the universe inexorably bends toward justice and human rights. Our adversaries think they’re fighting us. However, their opponents are fighting forces beyond their control. They oppose truth, history, and time. We know that they won’t win with these existential forces in our favor.
Pardon me Lily. I can’t become cynical enough to give up hope. The belief that the future is possible, not that the past will change, is what I call hope.
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