The leaked SCOTUS opinion on Roe vs Wade should not shock anyone

We really should not be shocked. We should know better. The writing has been on the wall for a very long time.

A pro-abortion rights demonstrator holds up a clothes hanger during a protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court
A demonstrator holds up a clothes hanger during a protest outside the US Supreme Court after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, signalling the court is poised to overturn the landmark Roe vs Wade abortion rights decision later this year, in Washington, DC, May 3, 2022 [Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters]

Many Americans have known for some time that Roe versus Wade would likely be overturned by the current Supreme Court.

We have also known for some time that the conservative justices of the court are unapologetically anti-choice and that three of the last four Supreme Court appointments were pushed through the Senate precisely in order to increase the chances of overturning the 1973 case protecting a woman’s right to legal abortion.

Nonetheless, the leaked documents detailing the Supreme Court’s draft ruling on a case that will effectively decide the future of Roe versus Wade are still shocking.

They are shocking not only because the leak of Supreme Court documents is almost unprecedented, but also because many progressives were still holding on – irrationally it now seems – to the slim hope that the justices would come to their senses or at least pay heed to what, according to a Pew poll, 59 percent of US citizens want – namely, to keep abortion legal and safe.

The leaked documents are shocking because of the now all-too-real possibility that our daughters, cousins, nieces, friends and neighbours will not enjoy the same kind of reproductive choices or autonomy over their bodies – at least not in almost half of the states in the United States – that many of my generation did.

Given that approximately one in four women have had abortions in their lifetimes in the US, the loss of a basic right, which was only gained after decades of struggle and in the wake of the deaths of thousands of women whose only option was to undergo illegal and unsafe procedures, is both stunning and devastating.

It is a blow to anyone in the US who identifies as a feminist or simply believes that women should have a modicum of control over their reproductive future. Of course, the legal right to an abortion has never been the overriding concern for many marginalised women, women of colour and poor women who routinely experience numerous forms of state violence and subjugation. Yet a woman’s ability to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy has been a constitutional right for nearly half a century, creating an important minimal baseline for what some of us saw as the opening to the broader struggle for reproductive justice: namely, the demand for the redistribution of economic and social resources in order to ensure that all women can, in fact, choose and make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives.

Moreover, as report after report has revealed, bans on abortion in more than half of the states – which is what people are predicting if Roe versus Wade is indeed overturned – will disproportionately affect young, poor and minority women. Middle class and wealthier women will have the necessary resources to travel to nearby “sanctuary states” to undergo the procedure, while their less privileged counterparts will not.

The documents are also shocking because they force us to confront something many of us have known for some time: that even the small steps that the US has taken over the past half-century to promote formal legal equality on a national level are being undermined, one by one.

First voting rights. Now abortion rights. The pattern is clear.

Thus, the likely overturning of Roe versus Wade needs to be understood as just one aspect of the more general – and to date relatively successful – strategic conservative comeback.

The revival of regressive politics is currently being ramped up in different Republican-led states across the country. Just think of the slew of bills or recently voted-in legislation banning critical race studies, removing books from public libraries and school curriculum, and targeting transgender children in states like Oklahoma, Georgia, and Texas. Even Disney is now under attack for its opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” in Florida.

Despite what some may think, over the past few decades we have not witnessed a gradual uneven expansion of legal protections for women, minorities, migrants and other vulnerable people. Rather, we have witnessed the erosion of many of these very protections – under Democrats and Republicans alike, even as this erosion has often been accelerated while Republicans are in power.

Therefore, we really should not be shocked. We should know better. The writing has been on the wall for a very long time. The US has never – ever – delivered on its promise of legal equality. This is, after all, the country where the Equal Rights Amendment, guaranteeing equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex, has never been ratified.

So what we really need now to do is to replace shock with anger. Shock will not get us anywhere. Anger can. We are clearly about to take one step backwards. But we can use our anger to propel mass mobilisation and protest. Just as the Black Lives Matter movement erupted out of anger to challenge lethal state violence inflicted with impunity on Black bodies, and just as the Women’s March emerged following public rage at the election of an unabashed sexist, our fury must now galvanise us and get us out on the streets in a show of mass resistance. And we need to direct this anger towards the upcoming November elections.

I am under no illusions that electoral politics can save us from all of the injustices that exist around us. Yet, if we do not direct our fury at the Handmaid Republicans in November and prevent them from getting elected or re-elected wherever we can, then Democrats will likely lose both houses of Congress. And if that happens, then the overturning of Roe Versus Wade will pale in comparison to what is in store for America.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.