Life After (?) Roe

If the Supreme Court does what we expect, what comes next for abortion rights in this country? A roundtable featuring Michele Goodwin, Frances Kissling, Monica McLemore, and Jacqueline Ayers. Moderated by Anna Louie Sussman.

By The Editors

Tagged abortion rightsCivil RightsequalityFeminismmovementroe v. wadeSupreme Court

With Mississippi’s abortion ban being heard in front of the Supreme Court this term, something many expect to end in a tragic outcome for Roe v. Wade, Democracy decided to bring together some of the country’s brightest and most important thinkers on the issue of abortion, from the realms of law, public health, medicine, and politics. They came together on January 21st, Roe’s 49 anniversary, to discuss the future—and past—of abortion in a post (and pre) Roe America.

We asked four distinguish panelist to examine how far a rights-based approach to abortion has taken us, how to better engage different sectors of our society in the fight for reproductive justice, and much more:

Michele Goodwin is an award-winning author, Chancellor’s Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine, and Senior Lecturer at Harvard Medical School. She is the host of On the Issues with Michele Goodwin.

Frances Kissling is a scholar, writer, and activist who, since 1970, has been at the centre of abortion rights efforts. She was a founder of the National Abortion Federation, 25-year president of Catholics for Choice and co-author of Rosie: The Investigation of a Wrongful Death.

Monica McLemore is a nurse and professor in the Department of Family Health nursing at UCSF.

Jacqueline Ayers is Senior Vice President of Policy, Organizing, and Campaigns for Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

The roundtable was moderated by:

Anna Louie Sussman, a journalist based in New York, covering gender, economics, and reproduction for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and other publications. She is a Class of 2022 New America Fellow.

Anna Louie Sussman: Just to start I’ll ask: What is your worst-case scenario? What’s the thing that makes you wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweats?

Frances Kissling: The worst case scenario is an outright overturn of Roe v. Wade. Or maybe the worst-case scenario is not overturning Roe and looking like in some way you have preserved it while you actually have gutted it completely. The worst-case scenario has been happening for the last 15 years. What has been going on consistently in a variety of forums, whether it’s the states, the legislatures, the courts, etc. is that abortion is becoming, in most parts of the country, less and less accessible.

Monica McLemore: For me, as a clinician, my worst scenario is we have a fragmented health system that’s not prepared to adequately care for people who want to become pregnant and become parents and birth. When you now have people who will be turned away from having wanted abortions, we don’t know how to care for them either. We have a health system that is not prepared to care for the whatever proportion of abortions that will not happen, where those pregnancies will be forced to be carried to term. And I think it is a tragedy upon another tragedy upon another tragedy, just from a clinical sense, that we will not have a workforce or willing institutional supports to be able to get good care to people regardless of how their pregnancies end or when they end.

Michele Goodwin: I’m concerned about the dismantling of our democracy and democratic principles, I’m concerned about the erosion of the rule of law, and I’m concerned about the equivalent of a death sentence that will be experienced by people who experience high maternal mortality rates in the states where we’ve seen the most prolific of anti-abortion legislating. It’s undeniable because we get the statistics from the very same states and the very same agencies within those states. These alarming rates of maternal mortality take place in Mississippi, in Texas, in Louisiana, states that have been at the forefront of challenging reproductive rights at the Supreme Court. I firmly believe we can’t separate abortion from the state of the U.S. democracy, and we can’t separate that either from the fact that we see the rule of law becoming a matter of paper rather than a matter of practice in these United States.

Jacqueline Ayers: I really think about how worried I am that people do not understand the moment, that we are not breaking through enough because this is not a drill. We know right now that the right to abortion is going to be dismantled by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has basically betrayed the people of Texas. Tens of thousands of Texans have had their constitutional right to abortion rendered meaningless. And so that is a sign that our right to abortion has never been in greater jeopardy. And we are really at a moment where we are going to need everyone who maybe has not previously taken action, called a legislator, maybe you have never sent an email or done anything political. This is the moment to politicize everyone.

ALS: Why haven’t people gotten the message? Why aren’t they more alarmed? Is that a failure of messaging?

MM: Well, at a structural level, I think that reproductive health rights and justice have historically been neglected. That just shows the value of pregnant-capable people in our society. We have this one narrative that motherhood is the most important role that you can have for propagation of our species. And we care so much about moms and babies and families and children and all this other stuff, but at the same time the full rights of citizenship are not necessarily afforded to individuals, which is why we are arguing over rights, right?

So, from where I sit, it’s not necessarily a messaging battle. To me it is the cultural neglect of pregnant-capable people and their role in our society and really having the supports that are necessary in order to operationalize the kind of life that one wants to be able to have. And those are policy choices. If we’re arguing about rights, then they’re not really rights. And we’re really not that serious in terms of making sure that citizens can operationalize rights in their lives in order to be able to have the existence that they desire.

ALS: Does anyone else want to add to that, or talk about why the pro-choice movement is where it is and how it can break through, if this is as urgent as you believe?

MG: There are multiple lenses that we can bring to this. One is a historic lens. We’re a society that is repulsed by our own history and refuses to engage in this history that we find to be repulsive. But unless we do, then we can’t situate what these narratives really mean, right? So, we don’t grapple with histories of commodification as associated with reproduction. We don’t deal with the political power association to reproduction that dates back centuries in our country and is not something that’s just simply isolated to slavery, but emerged after slavery into narratives of Jim Crow and eugenics in the United States, which we still see were quite evident through cases like Buck v. Bell and others.

And some of these policies make their way abroad, including in Nazi Germany. So, the fact that most of my law students come into my bioethics or constitutional law classes completely unaware that the Nazis adopted U.S. platforms and carried them out during the Third Reich tells us a lot about our histories, but there’s all also a contemporary analog that brings us to this space. When we look at the denigration of Black motherhood, we’d have to sort of focus in on the narratives of the so-called “crack mom,” the narratives of the “welfare queen.” This country’s taste for criminalization and the War on Drugs, all of those narratives also leading us to these spaces.

And it’s kind of sad that intersectionality is just kind of tossed around so much today. But the reality is when Black and brown women were being dragged out of hospitals, shackled and chained in the late 1980s, there were hardly any reproductive rights organizations saying, “They are ours. And we understand that these are attacks on personhood,” and then that these are efforts that are going to materialize down the road for use in anti-abortion campaigns. That just simply didn’t happen. And unless we address that too, then we’re failing to understand and equip ourselves with how to go forward in better and more dynamic ways.

FK: I think that at some point in this conversation one of the things that’s going to happen is that there’s going to be a critique of the strategies that have been used by the movement since 1968; the world changed so dramatically from 1968 to 1980, in terms of the rise of the women’s movement, an understanding of a more liberationist, social, cultural, free sex, however you want to look at it, time in history and a time when we sort of thought we wanted women to have rights, some sexual and some reproductive rights were a part of that. That is no longer the ethos of this country. And we all know all the other bad things that are happening in terms of the way in which we live in a regressive society.

And some of what is happening with abortion has to do with the times in which we live and what many, many people are afraid of and hateful about. So I try to contextualize what I think is even possible to achieve around life after Roe, because there is going to be life after Roe, in a way that doesn’t lose sight of the fact that there are limited things that we can do. And then I’ll say one more thing: Why do so many people rank this issue so low on their agenda? We have our stats about who believes in abortion, who thinks it should be legal, etc., but the reality is that, with the exception of some movement in communities of color, and I say some movement, there is no movement in most of the rest of white America. I stopped working on abortion in the United States 15 years ago. I considered it to be hopeless. And so I work in other countries.

I think that we are very boring. What we say publicly, how we present ourselves, who we seem to be as human beings with our politics, our culture, our values, etc., has not shifted. So when you hear somebody like me or any one of us and the other people we know who are representatives speak, you know what they’re going to say before they open their mouths. Each of us comes from a perspective on this issue and we parrot that perspective in public. And we get the applause from the people who already agree with us and somebody else has already turned off the TV or stopped reading. How you break through that boredom is a tough question because we are all wedded to our ideology on this issue.

ALS: Building off what Frances said, what are the new strategies? What is the future of this discussion? Is it a message? Is it a legal strategy? Is it a legislative strategy? Is it trying to get abortion to be more of a priority, or is it seeing abortion as part of a much bigger strategy? What is the new fresh, effective approach you haven’t tried before?

“I stopped working on abortion in the United States 15 years ago. I considered it to be hopeless. And so I work in other countries.”

MM: I have data. And I want to push back a little bit against what Frances said because, personally, we just published a study . . . this mushy middle, if we can’t curate a conversation that’s more nuanced and more complicated, if we can’t trouble a discussion, then we might need to think about if this is the line of work that we want to be doing. If you don’t dig deeper and you don’t do the hard work of appreciating the fact that this is way more complicated than pro-life and pro-choice, which is why we should have listened to reproductive justice leaders years ago, I think that that has always been the path forward.

The hand wringing around Roe drives me up a tree because Roe was not the best we could get. Yes, legal protections are really important, but could we actually [trouble this discussion] in a really different way to think about how we could actually get something that really drills down to the fundamental principles, but allows for enough nuance and questioning such that polarization becomes neutralized?

We just did a whole study of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses, 2,000 responses from nurses, nurses who take care of people who have abortions, nurses who are objective, conscientious objectors to abortions, the whole nine yards. And in that we found that the largest group of people who really had no strong feelings at all about abortion was this group of people in the middle, irrespective of how they identified, whether they considered themselves anti-abortion, pro-life, pro-abortion, when we looked at it on a five-point Likert scale, the biggest group of people sat in the middle.

ALS: What does that mean then when you think about how to take those findings and craft a strategy? Trying to do something policy-wise, working with medical associations, working on messaging and abortion storytelling, medical training, what do you think that looks like on the ground?

MM: This piecemeal thinking that we got a magic bullet, that this is a policy problem, we could fix that policy, or this is a health-care problem . . . Reproduction crosses all the gamuts of society. Whether it’s religion or business or economics or education or clinical training. And that’s why reproductive justice is so helpful, because it gives us a practice and a theory to help us weave all of those different people.

FK: Monica, let me ask you a question. You say that the majority of the people are somewhere in the middle. And you say, and I’m with you, that nuance is absent and important. Perhaps you were saying that reproductive justice is the nuance. But what I’d like to know is, when you say that, can you give me a few examples of where the nuance is for you very concretely? Not like “trust women,” that’s not nuance. There’s nothing nuanced about “trust women.” And there’s nothing nuanced about “abortion stops a beating heart.” Where’s the nuance?

MM: The nuance for me is when there was a first-ever historic amicus brief to make an argument that human rights trumps states’ rights in the Mississippi case, I asked everybody and their mother to sign onto it. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement, the American Hospital Association. Because this is not a polarized issue of pro-life and pro-choice. So for me, concretely, it’s going to organizations that historically have not cared about abortion and asking them: Where’s the through line to how you think you’re going to get your work done when Roe is not around? And then it’s also going back to abortion-focused organizations and asking them, “Okay, so where is your support for people who want to be able to make different kinds of decisions?” Cause they’re the same people at different time points in their lives.

JA: And I would add that the NAACP filed an amicus brief in this case. The civil rights organizations understand their role in the moment. It is not going to be just reproductive health rights and justice organizations standing together. The outcry has to be bold, wide, public, cultural. It has to be providers. It has to be businesses, athletes, sporting associations. I think we have to remind ourselves that we’re here because, in the 2010 elections, we started to see that this has been decades in the making, by Republicans through gerrymandering. So this didn’t happen overnight. We didn’t just all of a sudden have Jackson Women’s Health at the Supreme Court.

Poll after poll, you’ve seen this, 80 percent of people do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. So we’re finding ourselves at a time when a vocal minority is maintaining power because of rule changes and structure changes. And it is their power hold that has allowed, last year, over 600 abortion restrictions to be introduced in the states. We know that it’s happening because those who are elected are not representative of their constituents.

MG: Anna, let me add here that I understand that you want the conversation to pivot to “Well, what’s next?” And I’m a bit cautious about conversations that are about what’s next when we haven’t sufficiently dug through the historical underpinnings and the kind of contemporary challenges that confront us. And, in my mind, democracy is an important part of this conversation and voting rights are an important part of this conversation. And I think that we can root those back in the past and also in the present. Right now, we see the suppression of voting rights and the fragmenting of democracy. We saw that with the insurrection at the Capitol and the failure of Republicans to be accountable for the offices that they hold in the investigation into January 6.

But let me say that this reminds me of Fannie Lou Hamer. Back in Mississippi, when Black people had to guess how many bubbles on a bar of soap or jellybeans in a jar [in order to vote], Fannie Lou Hamer and others were articulating not just about voting rights. That was critically important, but she’s also the one that gives us language about the “Mississippi Appendectomy.” When Black girls, as young as 11 and 12 years old, were being coercively sterilized. This made its way into Judge Carlton Reeves’s injunction against the Mississippi abortion law going into effect. I think it’s one of the most brilliant injunctions that we’ve seen addressing these abortion bans because he relates to history. He dares Mississippi, in its contention that these laws are rooted in health and safety, and he says, and I embellish here, “How could that ever be when you’ve never cared about the health and safety of Black women in that state?” In fact, Fannie Lou Hamer—when she gave testimony about her experience in trying to assert her right to vote, which could, one could say, also affect how she’s able to treat her body in Mississippi—says, “I question America, is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave? Where our lives are threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings in America, because we want to be first class citizens?”

And those questions continue to resonate today. And if we don’t relate those questions to a conversation about reproductive health, rights, and justice, then what are we really talking about? If you care about abortion, you should care about voting rights and make sure that people’s voting rights are preserved and that they are expanded. When you think about a civil rights movement, it didn’t end and begin with Brown v. Board of Education. There was concern about housing, about employment, about education, about one’s ability to just be able to go into a park and swim in a pool.

“Texas is showing us what women are doing. They’re not flying to California, they’re driving to Colorado and Illinois and Oklahoma.”

One of the challenges of the past and, going forward, [is that] we have to do a much better job of is articulating a rights framework for reproductive justice. I’m right there with you, Monica. But to the extent that we’re thinking about rights as what we can litigate in court and come through Congress, then it has to be much more than about abortion. We have to pay attention to contraceptive care, maternal care for people who want to maintain pregnancy, women or non-binary people. We have to pay attention to sex education in school. And we have to make sure that the services that were provided through a Title 10 Framework are restored and then further expanded. And unless we’re talking about all of those things in harmony with abortion, then we’re going to see the failure of it all.

FK: I have a very deep concern over the continuation of rights, whether it’s abortion rights or the broader rights discussion, as strategically likely to get us anywhere, frankly. I think that the era of rights has passed us. We got this right in the Supreme Court. It served us well for the first 30 years in terms of it being preserved and in terms of states not being permitted to encroach significantly on that right. But the climate has changed so dramatically.

This goes back a little bit to what am I most afraid is going to happen. I believe what’s going to happen is that we will have legal, significantly available abortion in somewhere between 12 and 15 states in the United States. It goes back to 1970-73 when it was legal in six states and women came from all over the country to those six states. And when I look at those 35-some states where it is going to be restricted seriously by law, I don’t see the possibility, at least in the next decade, of changing the composition of who gets elected and what the state legislatures consist of. And I think the past history of these years in which all of the organizations we know have been working in all of those red states, that if I ask Deloitte Touche, if it still exists, to do a survey of what was accomplished by all that activity to elect the right people and all of that desire to change the legislatures in those states, I think it would prove a dismal failure. I don’t think anybody can point to a single red state that has turned in any way significantly to the election of the federal state or Senate or congressional representatives that have ended up going to Congress who are not the red people they were before we did that work.

JA: I have to say, Frances, at the end of last year, Arkansas stopped. The governor said they were going to call a special session to pass a Texas-style abortion ban. We know in Mississippi, on a ballot initiative, when this question was put to the people, they defeated a ballot initiative just a few years back in Mississippi. I do think that power-building is really important because we know that the majority of the people are on our side, and we can’t abandon women in Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana because their elected officials are not yet reflecting their values and their positions. At Planned Parenthood, we’re going to continue to try to provide health-care services to people because, yes, it is going to continue to be restricted, we think up to 26 states potentially could restrict if the decision doesn’t go our way in June, July, which would impact 36 million women and more people who can become pregnant. And we have to prepare for that moment.

We do need to think about where are the haven states. Texas is teaching us right now what we have to do because we are over 100 days into the ban and people are showing us what they’re going to do. They’re not getting on planes and flying to California. They are driving hundreds and hundreds of miles to Colorado and Illinois and Oklahoma. And I think our charge is: Are we going to work with the reproductive justice organizations, the abortion funds, the providers, and the border states to make it accessible and, at the same time, continuing to fight to make sure that we restore this constitutional right?

MM: I would be remiss not to say two things that I think are super important. The first one is Stacey Abrams. I can’t not applaud her on the groundwork. This whole idea that somehow we’re just going to turn stuff around, that doesn’t feel right. And I also want to put into this discussion: We have new technologies that we didn’t have in the past, and medication abortion is one of them, in addition to self-manage. Again, everybody has a stake in all of this. And so how do we get people to understand what their stake is and to be able to act? There’s a whole section of people we haven’t made asks of yet. When the employers rolled up in Texas and said, especially for the Uber and Lyft people, when Marc Benioff was one of the first CEOs to step out and be like, “Excuse me, we going make sure that our people have the legal representation.” What other asks do we need to make of people in order to be able to bring that mushy middle out of the mushy middle, and to be able to say that this is an employer issue? This is a transportation issue. This is an issue around remaining in the workforce. I am so over our inability to get past some of the asks that we need to make of other people, because we need some carrots and some sticks and we need to be twisting some arms of folks that historically we have not made asks of.

ALS: Does anyone have anything to add to that? We don’t have to debrief it, but the left has historically worked in silos. Maybe the overturning of Roe gives a legal opportunity to use a different justification, a different strategy. What does the sort of short-term, and medium-, and long-term strategy look like to you? What is an offensive strategy right now?

MG: In my book, Policing the Womb, I devote a chapter to a Reproductive Justice New Deal. It’s the last chapter of the book. And part of this was inspired through conversation with Dr. Monica McLemore. And what it delineates is a set of strategies that could be used going forward. And I’d have to say that I agree that we must be active in every lane.

We can’t give up on our courts simply because, in the last Administration, Donald Trump was able to nominate and get appointed more federal judges than any other President save George Washington. I still believe, for as long as I’m going to be in the United States, I want to fight for our courts. The same is true with regard to our legislatures, state and also federal government. It’s a legacy that I come from. My maternal forbears were from the state of Mississippi, people who were denied the right to vote, the ability to be able to go to school where they desired, and so much more. I have a great-grandfather who died at 94 without ever having running water in his home. You think I don’t care about democracy? I do. I care about voting rights. These are also problems that we have to think about within the social fabrics of our country, within the cultural dynamics and fabric of our country. And then finally, we have to pay attention to where resources are, because the reality is that as Texas, Mississippi, and other places make it far more difficult for people to be able to terminate their pregnancies and otherwise get the reproductive health-care services that they need, those demands will be driven to other places.

ALS: So how do you access those resources? How have philanthropic donors, how have institutions, how have big employers, corporations that have lots of money, how have they responded? Are they funding your rapid response? Giving to abortion funds? Are they interested in this long-haul fight?

MM: If you want to be able to change the conversation, particularly around abortion, family planning, and contraception, health-care hierarchy was never going to get us here. Parking that with physicians, never going to get you there, because, number one, they have a limited scope in terms of access that they have to the populations that we serve.

So it wasn’t intuitive to a lot of people when I first asked for money to get pre-doctoral and post-doctoral scholars that could come out without huge amounts of student debt. If I could strategically deploy faculty to make sure that learners can have access to fact-based information and evidence in the largest profession, nursing, that actually puts out 4 million employees a year, that that would be a more rapid way to be able to ensure access. But that requires investments, not just in the last four years when I’ve had it. So you can’t expect me to turn around rainbows and bubbles in four years because you know, pants on fire, right? This is a long-term investment kind of situation.

ALS: You’ve been able to get funding in the last four years, but something tells me you’ve been asking for even longer. What is it that changed that gave you a window of opportunity?

MM: Doing a piece in Scientific American about maternal morbidity and mortality and linking that to other reproductive health outcomes, speaking on NPR and really having more of a national platform for one set of work allowed me to continue to have another conversation about the whole spectrum of work that I do. Everyone told me that I would destroy my career by being on abortion-related billboards as a pre-tenured professor, [but] it was the right thing to do, right? And this was about abortion pill reversal. Everybody said that was a waste of time and we shouldn’t strategize around that. And here we are.

We have to be more intentional about who we are listening to and what ideas and what thoughts and what strategies. You’re talking to a daughter of a constitutional lawyer from Penn who retired as judge; I will never give up on rights. We need to have a deeper discussion about this idea of what asks, who else can we engage in the discussion. How can we make this real for them such that we can then expect them to go off and do the right thing? Everybody has written off hospital-based abortion, because it was so horrible before Roe. I said, “Well, have we given them a roadmap in terms of how to do this so that our maternal morbidity and mortality numbers don’t go up, especially now that CMS and the other federal funders are trying to really financially incentivize making sure that we can save mothers’ lives?” It requires speaking multiple languages across different disciplines and medicine was never going to give us that.

FK: I think the question of access is critical moving forward. And I think that there has not been enough emphasis on this. For me, in part the reason rights are so important is because rights hold the potential for access. I want people to have rights for many reasons, first, just simply because it’s the right thing. But also because something will happen if you have a right that doesn’t happen if you don’t have it. But we are challenged by whether the rights work has contributed strongly enough to generating access. For example, there are 50,000 members of the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists in the United States of America. And yet there are 1,300 to 1,500 members of that association who report annually that they have done an abortion. Where are the other 48,000 of them?

MM: Look, I’m not disagreeing with you. We need to be more discerning about who we allow to serve the public as members of the health professions.

FK: And they’re not all conscientious objectors. They have many reasons that they don’t want be bothered doing abortions. We have a Supreme Court decision that goes back quite a long way that says public hospitals are under no obligation whatsoever to provide abortion services. As we look at what the future is going to look like, why aren’t we pushing for more non-Catholic hospitals, particularly public hospitals, to provide abortion? Because, while you’re all still working on the legislator and the elections and voting rights and all those things that are very important and aren’t going to change that fast, we have to do something about access.

MG: I think that it’s not mutually exclusive and a lot of people are working in those multiple spaces. And believe me I think that this is one of the frustrations for folks who work in reproductive justice, because they’re juggling 20 different balls all at the same time, bringing attention to things when other folks are just managing one and seem overwhelmed. Women of color who’ve been working in this space have recognized all of that, have recognized the need for there to be organizations, hospitals, and clinics that serve the poorest of Americans. Those articulations were already there with active work within those spaces while at the same time holding true to something that I think is very important, which is let’s make sure that the democratic principles are in place.

I work with a lot of folks all around the world and they say that Americans are way too tied to the whole rights thing. My friends in Australia and Europe ask, “why are you guys so addicted to rights?” But the reality is that the democratic process does work. If we look at the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it’s not the acts themselves that failed us. It’s the Supreme Court in gutting part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. And part of that has also been the influence of unchecked money into politics.

But one of the things that we’ve not really talked about helps to weave together the stories inform and educate people so that we can actually have movement across these various spaces. And I think a lot of that has to do with looking at news and news media. I know that news media gets attacked so often. I think a lot of that happens to be unfair, but some of it is deserved. And we could sort of pivot into spaces and look and see that our Congress is barely 20 percent women represented. We look at news media and you look at who’s in charge, it also is deeply fragmented. Women don’t get to greenlight the stories that matter. And so we’ve been articulating the erosion of abortion rights, racism in the anti-abortion movement, the criminalization of abortion, but these should have been the kind of narratives running on front pages of major newspapers for the last 20, 30 years and have not been.

Almost immediately after Roe were challenges to whether the indigent could have access to an abortion. It turned out they could not.

It’s like a catch up in the last year where The Washington Post, where The New York Times have suddenly become awakened to the stories that we’ve been talking about for a very long time. I note that The New York Times’s editorial space has been doing marvelous work over the last three years. But what about the rest of the paper? This is news. It’s not an opinion that we see the erosion of basic human rights and democratic principles related to our bodies. So I don’t think that the conversation that we’re having is necessarily an either/or, but I think it’s about having an inclusive vision of all of what has been talked about as necessary moving forward.

FK: I think there’s a problem when we get into this it’s not either/or, it really is a block to moving forward. Because we all know it’s not either/or. What we are talking about is prioritization. All of these things can be part of it.

MG: I think that a lot of times that all depends upon who the people are who are determining what is a priority. And the reality is that, for some people, their interests, their views have never been part of a priority. We can’t get there talking about priority when there are some people who are still existing with knees on their necks and have been trying to get the knees off their necks for the last three or four centuries. And that’s even within the context of movements that are supposedly geared toward all women and all persons who can become pregnant. They’re the same manifestations of the hierarchies that we’ve seen over time.

And I’ll just end with this: We think about Roe v. Wade itself, right? Roe only did so much. Almost immediately after Roe were challenges to whether indigent people could have access to an abortion. And it turned out they could not. And the very movements that should have seen that as “this is our movement too,” it’s not been all in or a priority. So even when we begin talking about priority, it’s whose priority and who has the dollars and who’s able to actually move things into action.

FK: Well, the Hyde debate, which is what you’re talking about, was determined by Roger Craver deciding who would raise money for what. He told Planned Parenthood, NARAL, “No you don’t go for Hyde because nobody likes poor people. You scare people by talking about a constitutional amendment that will affect white women. And you forget about Hyde.”

ALS: You’ve brought up the empathy gap. How do you address it in a media environment that’s also kind of structurally skewed or that doesn’t seem to offer that much opportunity to reach people across different viewpoints?

MG: It’s real work, it’s effort, and it’s what we didn’t do coming out of Jim Crow and slavery. And it’s real work in terms of thinking through what are our cultural biases and priors as we then put pen to paper and push it out on the pages. I look at the headlines that come through and I still shutter at some of them just in terms of the way in which they’re framed. But I would say that one of the efforts that we should make with media is to be as representative as possible in terms of the voices that get space. And I think that many people know about the op-ed that I wrote in The New York Times last year. But I will say this: It wasn’t the first time that I had approached doing that story. So, the crisis mentality in covering women’s issues is a problem. Additionally, who gets to spread ink within the pages of our papers still matters a lot.

ALS: Thank you everyone.

Read more about abortion rightsCivil RightsequalityFeminismmovementroe v. wadeSupreme Court

The Editors of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas are Michael Tomasky (Editor), Jack Meserve (Managing Editor), and Delphine d'Amora (Associate Editor).

Also by this author

Bernard Schwartz, 1925-2024

Click to

View Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus