Events indicative of American democratic backslide are becoming terrifyingly more frequent. The leaked U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would overturn Roe v. Wade if enacted is the most recent. The right to a safe and legal abortion is assumed in most Global North nations, but in the U.S, the nation’s highest court appears to oppose this right. The U.S, once a beacon of liberty, is now set to restrict reproductive autonomy profoundly. The ruling will not stop abortions, but rather result in unsafe abortion practices and frame those who seek and perform abortions as felons.
All five of the justices in the majority opinion said, under oath, that they held Roe as a “super-precedent” during their confirmation hearings. Those same justices, who are not subject to election or term limits, decided to reverse said “super-precedent” and go against the opinion of 6 in 10 Americans who believe that abortion should be legal in “all or most cases”. Justice Samuel Alito’s draft ruling mentions multiple other historic cases such as the legalization of contraceptives, interracial marriage and same-sex marriage that he believes, like abortion, are not “deeply rooted in history”. This ruling sets a dangerous precedent. Rights and liberties that were shielded by historical precedent are clearly not considered as such by the ultra-conservative court. This means the overturning of Roe might be just the beginning of the erosion of American civil liberties at the judicial level.
If there was ever a time for a significant change, it is now. We are stuck in a vicious cycle of stagnation and regression when it comes to political leadership. Young people in this country are growing up in a climate where their beliefs are not represented at any level of government leadership. The choices we have are not between progress and regress, but rather between the maintenance of the status quo and pure reactionism. Voters turned out for Democrats and Joe Biden in 2020 in historic numbers, believing that he would save America from its rapid shift towards authoritarianism. However,less than two years into Biden’s administration authoritarianism is still swelling and one of the key rights Biden promised to protect is about to be rescinded.
The response from Democrats and the Biden administration has been lackluster and milquetoast. Senator Eric Swalwell tweeted after the ruling leaked “There is one and only one way to preserve #RoeVWade and protect a women’s right to choose and that’s to #VoteBlueIn2022”. The White House said in a statement that it will “fall on the voters to elect pro-choice officials this November”. Democrats used the very same message of voter accountability in 2020 to garner majorities in both chambers of Congress and the presidency. The Democrats in Washington, including Joe Biden, have the power to respond to the overturning of the cornerstone of American reproductive rights with ferocity. However, Democrats, unlike Republicans, refuse to take the bold strokes that would generate progress if it violates precedent.
Biden and Democratic congressional leaders are pushing to codify Roe, but refuse to make the moves necessary to do so; thus, these claims seem like little more than virtue signaling. One of the key changes needed to make the codification of Roe a reality is the abolition of the filibuster. While it is unlikely that said abolition would pass due to the opposition of Democratic senator Joe Manchin, bringing it to a roll call vote would put serious pressure on Manchin. Furthermore, Congress could push to expand the Supreme Court or impose term limits. While this would have similar difficulty passing, it would show that Democrats are willing to defend essential civil liberties even if it requires reversing historical precedent.
The Democrats’ recurrent attempts to garner a broad voter coalition have created numerous inconsistencies in the party’s agenda and internal fractions. For example, Christine Pelosi, daughter of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, tweeted after the ruling: “We warned you for years. But some of you with lofty lefty platforms told people not to vote for Democrats to send a message in 2010. You didn’t heed our warnings in 2016. Now you are “shocked” that the Republican Supreme Court will overturn Roe – but you should be ashamed”. Numerous users were quick to point out that Nancy Pelosi is currently endorsing a pro-life incumbent Democratic representative Henry Cuellar.
Congressional Democrats need to realize that they have the weapons to combat authoritarianism, but they need to create a cohesive agenda, consistent rhetoric and be willing to take the necessary risks to pass progressive legislation. There is still time to save America and put it back on the path to progress rather than regress. We have to stop twiddling our thumbs and blaming a lack of congressional majority or the precedents bold action may violate. President Biden, this is your make-or-break moment. Will you heal America’s divide and foster the rebirth of progressivism? Or will you stick with the status quo?