Scholar Strategy Network: The Supreme Court rules against individual liberty

I am a middle aged mother. I work, I volunteer, I pay my taxes. I assume that the rights and responsibilities associated with adult in the United States, including protection from government interference with my privacy. The recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs challenges this presumption. According to the majority of the judges, the Constitution can fully protect only men. It terrifies and enrages me.

Previous SCOTUS decisions (Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey) have found that abortion is protected as a matter of liberty. The current SCOTUS rejects this precedent, arguing that the Government’s interest in forcing pregnancy and childbirth outweighs the individual liberty of pregnant persons. They claim that pregnancy is not a “burden to undo” and that babies can easily be given up for adoption. Furthermore, they claim, neither women nor abortion are explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. This logic alarmingly calls into question all our constitutional rights.

My own reproduction stories are mundane, but central to my life. Above all, I tried not to be pregnant, grateful to have access to legal birth control. In 1999, I voluntarily gave birth to my first child. My postpartum recovery has far exceeded the few weeks promised by the “What to Expect” books. We had no paid family and medical leave, which remains true for most of us today. Whatever SCOTUS says, it wasn’t “easy”. I later suffered a miscarriage that could have resulted in death from sepsis without D&C, a procedure now threatened by the abortion ban. After that, I vomited twice a day for 17 weeks in a row, for a wanted pregnancy which nevertheless damaged my health and my career.

As a white woman with health insurance, my hard was still easy compared to many. Even with the legal right to abortion, last year the United States ranked 87th in the world for women’s health, largely due to our extremely low rates of access to health care and high rates of black maternal mortality. As black feminists have long said, rights are only part of reproductive justice. Nevertheless, rights remain an essential element of equality and well-being.

Motherhood fuels my fury. I refuse a future where our children are forcibly impregnated, forced to give birth, or otherwise treated as inferior citizens to their male peers. Voters across the country share my rage. The Dobbs decision is radically out of step with public opinion. Kansas just voted to protect abortion rights because freedom for all remains a bipartisan value. In Maine, Governor Janet Mills has pledged to protect the rights of pregnant women, creating safer conditions for residents and visitors. This is great news for our state, but continued advocacy to ensure human and civil rights for all of us remains essential! There are many courses of action:

Centuries after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, I believe that the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness remain self-evident. I believe women’s rights are human rights, trans rights are human rights. Restricting the civil rights of pregnant women this year will cause great suffering and needless death, but our activism can counter and ultimately expand rights for all. Civic engagement remains an adult obligation, and can also bring great joy. I look forward to the future we create by refocusing the power of the people.

Kimberly Simmons teaches women’s and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine. She is a member of the Maine chapter of the National Strategic Fellowship Network, which brings together scholars from across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Member columns appear here monthly.


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