As former Presidents of Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, ranging in age from the mid-thirties to 90-plus years, we have for many decades been involved in politics as academics, activists, and advocates. Among our numbers are elected officials and appointed commissioners at the local, county, and state levels, As feminists who have spent our active lives in support of equal rights for women in every sphere of life, we are appalled by the Supreme Court’s recent ruling to overturn Roe v Wade.
DOBBS V. JACKSON DECISION
During their Senate interviews, candidates Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Comey Barrett all indicated that they believed Roe v. Wade was legal precedent. And yet, once appointed to the Supreme Court, they joined Justices Alito and Thomas to overrule not just one but two major legal rulings, both Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), thus holding that the Constitution of the United States does not confer a woman’s right to abortion. This is an enormous shift in 50 years of accepted legal precedent and eliminated the freedom that each woman and people who can become pregnant legally had to make decisions about their own bodies.
Opponents of abortion who support this law have argued that the embryo is “a person” from the moment of conception. This position has elevated the views of a conservative religious ideology over the religious and personal convictions of others. It defies all scientific scholarship. In turning decisions about abortion back to state governments, the Supreme Court generated massive confusion in the already existing national patchwork of laws, and it gave license for state legislators to regulate, delimit, or abolish abortion entirely. There is confusion among doctors in different states over who can and cannot undergo an abortion. The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists laid out the ethical dilemma faced by physicians in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the case Dobbs v. Jackson. The brief reads: “The ban forces clinicians to make an impossible choice between upholding their ethical obligations and following the law.” The public is now learning that some doctors who fear prosecution will hesitate to end pregnancies, even when they are life threatening.
SOCIAL, ECONOMIC, AND LEGAL IMPACT
The Supreme Court’s decision has dire implications for the future of young women, men, families, and even for the economy. In an amicus brief filed against the abortion ban, 154 economists outlined decades of research on how unplanned pregnancies affect women’s education, employment, and earning prospects, and how the ban can impact the labor market more broadly. The Brookings Institute reminds us that when women are primarily responsible for caregiving, their careers are compromised, often requiring that they take leaves, work part-time, and/or have little time for the training and education that could lead to advancement. Women’s income is essential to sustaining a family’s economy, obviously in single-income, but also in two-income households. More, there are costs for any medical procedure, which include taking time off work, arranging out-of-state travel and overnight childcare for children, and the medical procedure itself. Given the high cost of a needed abortion in states with restrictions and bans, Barnard College Professor Elizabeth Ananat argues that the costs can “blow a middle-class family’s savings.”
Make no mistake: There is sexism in suggesting that it’s overreaching to emphasize rights that mostly protect women. And there is naiveté in believing that an end to women’s reproductive choice will only affect women. Couples, families, and existing children are immediately affected when there is an unplanned pregnancy. Pushing back against antediluvian laws is a fight that must include all people.
ACCESS TO WOMEN’S HEALTH CARE
As feminists who have marched, lobbied, and protested injustice when it came to women’s rights, we are devastated by the Supreme Court’s decision that produces further inequities in a health-care system that already poorly serves communities of color and poor women. We are also troubled by the consequences of a definition of life beginning at fertilization, which may potentially limit most contraceptives. We believe that abortion is part of the spectrum of health-care services, crucial to the long-term health of women as mothers and as workers. The majority of women who seek abortions are already mothers. Yet, anti-abortion legislation is based on lies about reckless, irresponsible, hypersexual women, and constitutes an attack on every human who is capable of becoming pregnant.
Given the power of the current conservative court and its “originalist” theory, the Supreme Court might soon follow Clarence Thomas’s suggestion and challenge the right to access contraception. Already, for example, ultra conservative Republicans in Missouri are targeting IUDs and emergency contraceptives, often sold under the brand name Plan B, and many states will follow. Many women will be forced to give birth or seek illegal abortions.
When it comes to a woman’s body, where will the court end its reach? No matter a woman’s circumstance, Pew Research Center informs us that six in ten Americans want to maintain abortion rights. While 21 states expanded or protected access to reproductive health and rights in 2017, this national profile could quickly change if the Dobbs decision extends to all states.
A CALL TO ACTION
The pace of change is coming at us so fast that some describe the political situation as surreal. This is no time for complacency. The Supreme Court is moving on many fronts to remove individual liberties and freedoms. Everything modern women care about, including women’s bodily autonomy, rests on the 2022 elections.
We must support the Senate candidates who will support The Women’s Health Protection Act, a critically important piece of legislation that would prohibit governmental restrictions on the provision of, and access to, abortion services, thus codifying Roe. The November mid-term elections are critical because the bill must reach the 60-vote threshold in the Senate to pass. Our representatives must hear from each of us and if they don’t listen, let’s vote them out.
All people must join forces to work on key but winnable campaigns, and that includes a coalition comprised of Progressive Republicans, conservatives who support choice, Independents, young people, union members, suburban women, college students, and people of the LGBTQ community. Send money, write postcards, and call your relatives and friends who live in the critical states with Pro-Choice candidates, which are Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Georgia.
Need inspiration? Two decades ago, in her 1993 confirmation hearing to join the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsberg explained to the Senate Judiciary Committee:
“The decision whether to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”
In 2021, the United Nations agreed that women must have autonomy over their bodies. Given all that has just occurred to undermine women’s freedoms in our country, we can’t assume that the ship of state will right itself by itself. We must go on the offensive together, waging our own campaigns to halt this wave – no, tsunami – of legal decisions that are eroding women’s rights.
Signed, The presidents of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee:
Hon Margaret Connell
Hon. Hannah-Beth Jackson
Hon. Luz Reyes-Martin
Hon. Susan Rose