The conservative-majority US Supreme Court upheld by a six to three vote a Republican-backed Mississippi state law banning abortion afterwards at 15 weeks gestation. It also overturned Roe v. Wade by five votes to four. Chief Justice John Roberts supported upholding the Mississippi law but not overturning abortion rights. Nine states have already banned abortion as of Friday 24 June and 17 more are expected to do so soon. We spoke with Michele Goodwin, Chancellor of the University of California and professor of law at the Irvin School of Law, whose recent article for The New York Times is entitled “No, Judge Alito, Reproductive Justice Is in the Constitution”.
Last Friday, June 24, the US Supreme Court issued, after much anticipation, the ruling overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that determined the constitutional right to abortion some 50 years ago. The conservative majority court upheld by six votes to three a Republican-backed Mississippi law that bans abortion afterwards after 15 weeks of pregnancy, while the reversal of Roe won five votes to four. Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, supported upholding the Mississippi law but not overturning Roe. Nine states have already banned abortion since that reversal and 17 others are expected to do the same soon.
In his justification for the majority ruling, Justice Samuel Alito wrote: “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the elected representatives of the people”.
In their dissenting brief, the court’s three liberal justices stated: “With sadness, for this Court, but even more for the many millions of American women who have lost a fundamental constitutional protection today, we dissent.
Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas ruled for the majority but, in a concurring opinion, argued that other landmark rulings on gay rights and the right to contraception should also be overturned.
In response to the court’s ruling thousands of people demonstrated across the US over the weekend. Many protesters were subjected to arrests and police violence in Los Angeles and South Carolina.
Protester: This Supreme Court thinks it can impose a law on the country that the majority of its people do not support and that will overturn the fundamental human rights of more than half the people who live here! I’m furious!
Amy Goodman: -On Friday, June 24, in states with abortion bans already in place, many clinics stopped offering abortion services immediately, saying it was the best way to protect staff and patients given the legal uncertainty. Many providers cancelled appointments and urged patients to seek help elsewhere.
Meanwhile, reproductive rights activists are mobilising to help patients with travel and other expenses.
This is Renee Bracey Sherman, executive director of the organisation We Testify, speaking at a rally last weekend.
Renee Bracey Sherman: -It’s also going to be crucial for them to mobilise in four, five, six, seven, eight, nine months, when they arrest someone because their baby was stillborn or because they had a miscarriage or they had an abortion on their own.
-In our next segment we go to Missouri, which became the first state to enact its “trigger law” afterwards. This is Missouri Democratic state Congresswoman Cori Bush, responding to the Supreme Court ruling.
Cori Bush: -Forty-nine years… excuse me… 49 years and they just overturned it. [Thirty-six million people are going to be affected and they’re telling us “No way”. Thirty-six million people, “no way”. Thirty-six million people. This is an extremist, extreme right-wing Supreme Court making a decision that affects other people, that affects their lives, when we know that the leading cause of death among black women before 1973 was sepsis from unsafe abortions. And now they say, “It’s okay to go back to that point. Let’s send them back to those times”, knowing that people are already suffering, and that those services are necessary, they are health services. It’s like mental health. It’s like going to the doctor to get care for a heart condition or a toothache. They are health services.
-In the past, Congresswoman Bush revealed that she was raped and had an abortion as a teenager.
President Biden criticised Friday’s ruling and vowed to protect access to abortion pills and contraceptives. Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren and 25 other senators wrote a letter to Biden urging him to open federally owned enclaves in Republican states for abortion clinics. This is Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press.
bq. Ocasio-Cortez: -I think both the president and the Democratic Party need to realize that this is not just a crisis of the Roe case, this is a crisis of our democracy. The Supreme Court has dramatically overstepped its authority.
-To talk more about the issue, we have two guests. From Philadelphia we are joined by Kathryn “Kitty” Kolbert, co-founder of the Center for Reproductive Rights and an attorney who argued the landmark case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey before the Supreme Court in 1992, which upheld Roe v. Wade. She is co-author of the book “Control Over Women: What We Must Do to Save Reproductive Freedom”.
We are also joined by Michele Goodwin, professor of law at the University of California Irvine School of Law, host of Ms. magazine’s On the Issues with Michele Goodwin podcast and author of the book “Control Over the Womb: Invisible Women and the Criminalisation of Motherhood”. Her new article for The New York Times is titled “No, Judge Alito, Reproductive Justice Is in the Constitution”.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Professor Goodwin, let’s start with you. How do you respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade afterwards, after almost 50 years?
Michele Goodwin: -Well, it’s a pleasure to be back, Amy, on this program.
The decision, like the leaked draft, has many errors and omissions. It does a selective, or even opportunistic, reading of US history. It doesn’t focus… in all its purported originalism, in all its purported textualism, it curiously ignores the 13th amendment to the Constitution. It even ignores the first sentence of the 14th Amendment.
And that’s what my article in The New York Times is talking about. When Congress abolished, by ratifying the 13th Amendment, slavery and involuntary servitude, it was not abolishing it only for Negro men. They understood very well that involuntary servitude, for Negro women in America, meant involuntary sexual assaults and rapes and consequent pregnancies, as Negro women were forced to work not only in the fields, but also under the weight of a different kind of slave chains, such as sexual subordination and procreation.
This was well known. Abolitionists in the Congress that passed the 13th Amendment spoke and wrote about it. Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was nearly beaten to death in the halls of Congress two days afterwards after giving a speech on the rape of black women. Sojourner Truth talked about it. It was clear to everyone. The New York Times ran stories about it. So, this idea that there was nobody thinking about involuntary servitude as being related to involuntary procreation is just absurd. It was written everywhere. Everybody knew that this was one of the devastating effects of slavery in the U.S. And it was abolished with the 13th amendment. And then later on, the 14th amendment, recognised that Negro women continued to suffer psychological, physical, as well as reproductive abuse in the southern states of the country. Their children were being denied citizenship. Their children were being kidnapped, taken away from them. And that’s why the 14th amendment was ratified.
So, my article looks at all of this so that the Supreme Court and our country remembers this, because, otherwise, Negro women would essentially be eliminated from the Constitution. And by removing black women from the Constitution, we ultimately remove all women from the Constitution, because the 13th amendment and the 14th amendment not only freed black women from these shackles, but white women as well.
None of this is taken into account by the originalists and the textualists on the Supreme Court, who seem to ignore all of that and have now left us with a country where there are free states, where people can freely decide about their bodies, and where there are other states where there is no such freedom. And we can’t forget that this is very much related to the patterns of slavery and segregation in the United States.
-Tell us about the way forward now. People of colour are the most affected by the lack of health care that will exist when abortion is banned in state after state. Can you talk about the Duke University study on maternal mortality among black women and how much higher that rate is compared to pregnant white people?
Michele Goodwin: -I’m glad you brought that up because what’s also alarming about this ruling, and the draft ruling, is the fact that it doesn’t take into account the data, the concurrent data. The United States is 55th in the world in terms of maternal mortality. It is not in the league of Germany, France and their peer nations. Instead, it is in the company of countries that still publicly flog and stone women.
In 2016, data from the same Supreme Court showed that women were 14 times more likely to die carrying a pregnancy to term than during an abortion. And if we cross this data with the racial issue, we can see the horror behind it all, and yet the Supreme Court has chosen to disregard this data. In Mississippi, Negro women are 118 times more likely to die carrying a pregnancy to term than during an abortion. According to Mississippi’s own data and that of its Department of Health, 80% of cardiac deaths in that state are among black women. Black women are not 80% of the women in the state, but they account for 80% of cardiac deaths during pregnancy. And nationally, they are three and a half times more likely to die from pregnancy problems than white women.
And that’s not all. If we look at certain counties within these anti-abortion states, we see that black women can be five, ten or fifteen times more likely to die from being forced to carry a pregnancy to term than from having access to abortion. And it’s very obvious and alarming. And the most impressive thing is that the Supreme Court does not take these facts into consideration.
Edited and translated by Igor Moreno Unanua and Iván Hincapié, Democracy Now