After the Overturn

24 June 2022

I woke up later than usual today. The sun was already casting hot shadows through my curtains. I was surprised to notice my cat’s body stretched along my hip; I typically wake to him gazing longingly at the window for his morning outing. My phone was, for once, not next to me in bed, but on a chair near my writing desk.

I made my coffee as usual. I found my pen and laid my notebook open to write as usual. A few sentences in, I reached for my phone to take a quick peek at the news, as I too often do. And I saw the headline at the top of the page: Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade; states can ban abortion (the article headline has changed since this morning).

I felt the now-familiar sense of shock mingled with dreadful non-surprise.

This has been coming since Senate Republicans denied Merrick Garland a hearing for his Supreme Court nomination by Barack Obama in 2016, paving the way for Donald Trump to appoint the first of three Supreme Court justices within just four (long, awful) years. Trump appointed three Supreme Court justices and 231 other federal judges, many of them young conservatives, including the one who struck down the federal mask mandate on airplanes.

I’ve learned that when momentous things happen, particularly horrible ones, it is all too easy for me to lose hours in scrolling and spiralling, to lose any sense of coherence as I take in the flood of infographics and think-pieces and calls to action, the barrage of responses. It’s not that I don’t want to know– it’s that I feel overwhelmed by so much, and I have a hard time closing the faucet again once I turn it on. I texted my partner, a few friends. We vented our frustrations, sorrow, anger. We talked about what we would do instead of scroll.

I made myself a big breakfast. And began listening to a podcast. I listen to a lot of podcasts; probably too many. When I’m not absorbing information with my eyeballs, I’m absorbing it through my ears. Roe v. Wade has been a topic of many podcasts, especially recently. I turned to one that I’ve been listening to regularly for the last couple of years: Throughline, a show that “go[es] back in time to understand the present.” It’s been helpful to listen and gain more context for where we are today. I find it easier to engage with current events this way. Looking at what happened to get to where we are helps me think about what we have to do to get to somewhere better.

So, here is an episode guide of sorts. Maybe not a guide so much as a meander through Roe v. Wade-related listening.

Before Roe: The Physicians’ Crusade (Throughline) discusses the transition of pregnancy, childbirth, and abortion as managed by (at the time) women in private spheres to a field of medicine controlled by men. Content note: contains graphic descriptions of abortion and suicide.

The Shadows of the Constitution (Throughline) brings up the Ninth Amendment, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” This means there are rights retained by the people which the Constitution shall not infringe upon. The discussion is framed via Heidi Schreck and her play “What the Constitution Means to Me,” and her journey from being a lover of the constitution to realizing the ways in which it had failed her.

Heidi Schreck mentions Castle Rock v. Gonzalez, in which the Supreme Court declared that the Castle Rock, CO police department had “no special duty” to enforce a restraining order against Jessica Gonzalez’ husband, and could not be held liable for his murder of their three daughters. No Special Duty (Radiolab) was released in October 2020.

After Roe: A New Battlefield (Throughline) describes the growth of the anti-choice movement. It also contains graphic descriptions of abortion, some dramatized and scientifically inaccurate.

And while the Supreme Court does not believe that it can tell states what to do as far as providing critical reproductive health care, it does believe that it can strike down New York’s efforts at gun control. I can only imagine how terrifying this combination of decisions is for New York abortion providers– Abortion in the Crosshairs (Reveal) covers the 1998 murder of a doctor who provided abortions at a Buffalo clinic.

Regarding the reality that abortion will continue whether or not there is legal, safe access in a medical setting, The Resurgence of the Abortion Underground (The Experiment) describes the dissemination of abortion information and a “menstrual extraction device” invented by Lorraine Rothman, a founding member of the Orange County, CA chapter of NOW.

I struggle to understand how some people can feel so vehemently that the law– that they– should dictate that a person be reduced to a womb, for the sake of a person yet to be. To force a living, breathing person to risk their life to attempt to grow a potential-person against their will.

Perhaps it’s not such a stretch in this country where people have long been reduced to means of production.