Get the message right on Roe

Published May 12, 2022

By Thomas Mills

If the Supreme Court guts Roe v. Wade, as the leaked opinion implies, then the political landscape going into the 2022 election is almost certainly changed. The election will focus on the impact of that decision and progressives need to take advantage of the new political environment. Instead of focusing on the Supreme Court and what has already been done, they  need to focus on the proposed actions by Republicans and their impact on women’s lives. They need to having more conversations with the American public and fewer protests shouting at justices. 

Already, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says a federal ban on abortion is possible if the GOP gets control of the Senate. A bill in Idaho would ban the use of IUDs. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves won’t rule out banning contraception. Those positions are far outside of the mainstream and could awaken Democrats’ sleepy base. 

As people have noted, the so-called pro-life movement is really just pro-birth. There’s no indication they care too much about the life of the mother or the life the child once it’s born. There’s also no indication that criminalizing abortion reduces its frequency. It only reduces the procedure’s safety. In other words, states that make abortion illegal are only threatening women, not saving fetuses. 

That’s the conversation that needs to happen. Young women need to know that Republicans do not have their best interests in mind. In fact, they want to limit their choices in both health care and life style. They believe that children should be forced to bear the children of their abusers and victims of rape should be forced to give birth to their rapists’ children. And they are poised to pass legislation across the country to ensure it. 

Women of child bearing age could lose their ability to choose when they start their families and, in many cases, may be forced end their educations or careers in order to raise children. The legislation being discussed in Republican circles is deeply damaging to women. Those who suggest that the next Einstein might be aborted have no problem ensuring the next Mae Jemison would never make it into space or the next Jane Goodall never meets the Great Apes. Those are the conversations progressives need to be having. 

The reaction against overturning Roe v. Wade needs to become a political message, not a protest movement. While protests might feel good to those already politically active, there’s not much evidence they translate into votes or motivate those who aren’t already engaged. And while rallying outside the Justices’ houses might be protected free-speech, it probably alienates people who would otherwise be sympathetic to the cause. 

The reaction to Roe should be focused on the impact on women’s lives, not on abortion per se. Too many activists are trying to destigmatize abortion when they should instead be explaining how limiting access to abortions hurts women. Political messages work best when they aren’t muddled. Instead of debating the morality of abortion, focus on how the impending restrictions put women’s lives at risk, impede their social and educational development, and limit their economic freedom. The argument is not about Roe or the Supreme Court. The argument is about women and their lives. Personalize the debate instead of arguing about the morality of abortion or the Court’s decision itself.