The McConnell court

Published May 5, 2022

By Thomas Mills

If the leaked memo from Supreme Court is correct, Roe v Wade has been overturned. It’s a bit shocking, even if it was predictable. Conservatives are giddy, even if trying to focus more on the unprecedented leak than the impact on low-income women who can’t afford to travel for health care. Liberals and progressives are outraged. 

If the decision holds, it’s terrible news for our country on multiple fronts. The most awful consequence will women and girls dying, either from botched abortions or troubled pregnancies. Conservatives, of course, equate fetuses and women. They believe that the mass of cells and protoplasm that make up most abortions are as significant as the young women who carry them. In their minds, reversing Roe will save more lives than it takes. It’s twisted logic unless you believe that a soul forms at conception and is equal to a person who has established an identity, built relationships, has hopes and dreams, and developed consciousness.   

The credibility of the court itself will be another victim of the decision. Liberals and progressives already believe that Mitch McConnell rigged the court by denying Obama an appointment and then rushing through Amy Comey Barrett. According to Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, both Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Comey Barrett indicated that Roe was settled law and that the decision would stand. At the very least, if the leaked decision is right, the Trump appointees misled them. Most liberals and progressives will consider the ruling illegitimate, making all further rulings dubious at best. 

 Relatedly, the legacy of the Roberts court will also take a hit. His court will be known for divisive, highly partisan decisions. From Citizens United to gutting the Voting Rights Act to overturning Roe v. Wade, the Roberts court will go down in history as an activist court that widened the divisions in our country by increasing the influence of the wealthy and powerful at the expense of marginalized and regular citizens. Speech may be free but it takes money to be heard. Voting is a privilege to be restricted to those who can jump through hoops, not a right fundamental to our democracy. And safe abortion will be a medical procedure for women lucky enough to live in a blue state or rich enough to cross state lines. It’s really the McConnell Court, an extension of GOP ideology, not jurisprudence.

The country will also be a victim of this ruling. At a time when we desperately need unifying events, this decision will further divide us. We’ll see another summer of protests in states across the nation. After conservatives celebrate the decision, their exuberance will return to victimhood as companies write off red states so their female employees can get the health care they need, not the proselytizing of Christian fundamentalists. The fight that conservative believe they’ve won is just beginning. 

 Politically, progressive believe that the decision will fire up their base and boost turnout dramatically. I’m not so sure. I think there will be a backlash, but it may take more than just gutting Roe to get the attention of enough voters to make a big difference. The decision will anger and energize activists, but those folks are already planning to vote. It’s an issue that is not directly impacting a large enough subsection of the less informed electorate to drive turnout. I suspect we’ll have to hear some horror stories before the anger gets beyond the activists. Unfortunately, we will probably have to wait until a few 12-year-olds give birth to their abusers’ children or some 14-year-old girls die of botched home abortions before opposition to the decision galvanizes. 

All of that said, the decision could change the tenor of the midterm election, making it as much a referendum on the court as on Biden. That would be good for Democrats, but still might not make enough of a difference to alter the forces that determine outcomes. Voters will be mostly self-interested and, while a lot of politicians are talking about abortion rights, most the electorate will still be thinking about inflation. 

If the decision that leaked is the one handed down by the court, the country will be worse off. The Supreme Court will have lost some of its legitimacy to about half the nation. Women and girls will certainly die as a result of the decision. More children will have children. And our divided country will be a little more divided in the coming years.