Minutes before I walked onto a plane Friday, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. It hit me much harder than I expected.
It's not like we didn't know this would likely happen. Still, I boarded with tears in my eyes and outrage in my heart, looking with suspicion at my fellow Americans: a mother with a baby, a man in a "Faith Family Flag Freedom" baseball cap, a young man on the phone speaking nonstop in a Slavic language – Russian? Ukrainian? Whose side is he on? I wondered.
And isn't that the question about everyone these days?
The crazy thing is that I was headed to a conference on how to have respectful, thoughtful conversations about controversial public policy questions. But how is that possible in a diverse country when there are so many people who don't believe in pluralism or even the 21st century, and some of them are on the Supreme Court?
Cataclysmic abortion consequences
This has been a month of horrors. Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his abortion ruling that, unlike other rights the Constitution does not explicitly mention, abortion cannot be "deemed fundamental.” That's quite something for any individual to assume on behalf of all Americans.
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It's no exaggeration to say the consequences will be cataclysmic, both nationally and for women no longer in control of their lives or health – or even in some cases whether they live or die. The ruling also signals an erosion if not an outright violation of keeping religion out of government. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in December after a lawyer equated Roe v. Wade with "the right to end a human life," how is this "anything but a religious view?"
That "victory" for states' rights to set their own abortion policies came a day after the court severely limited state control over who can carry a weapon in public. Justice Clarence Thomas said any restrictions must conform with "historical tradition" in the 18th and 19th centuries when the Second and 14th Amendments were adopted. Even parts of the bipartisan gun law signed Saturday by President Joe Biden could be at risk.
The gun decision came two days after the court ruled private schools that teach religion can receive state funding. The Maine prohibition at issue discriminates against religion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the 6-3 conservative majority. Another crack in the wall between church and state.
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And then another one on Monday – the court says 6-3 that a Washington state football coach can pray publicly at the 50-yard line after games, no matter that some parents said their kids felt pressured to pray with him.
The court is still not done cogitating on modernity, in this case the alleged "deep state" of government chemists, toxicologists and other experts who write rules and regulations for the laws Congress passes. Stay tuned. The case at hand will determine whether the Environmental Protection Agency has the right to fight climate change. But the impact could be much broader: It could endanger "the very foundation of modern regulation," writes Steve Cohen, a sustainability and environmental policy expert at Columbia University.
Justice Roberts is part of the problem
Make no mistake, this is the Roberts court. He's not the "dignified traditionalist" author Scott Turow recently called him, or the incrementalist he would like to be viewed as.
Roberts sided with the 5-4 majority in the 2010 Citizens United case that has allowed corporations and other outside groups to spend unlimited money on political campaigns, and in more recent cases gutted donor disclosure requirements and let candidates recoup from donors every cent they loan to their campaigns.
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He decided that "our country has changed" so it was time to gut the Voting Rights Act, but he was wrong and voter suppression laws are rampant. He also decided expanding Medicaid should be optional under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. That cost thousands of lives, a 2019 study found, and a dozen states with nearly 4 million uninsured poor adults still aren't participating.
Last week, Roberts tried to split the difference by upholding Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban and opposing the end of Roe. But the court overturned Roe without him on a 5-4 vote.
Suffrage is a historical inspiration
it will take time to get past the shock of this, the hopelessness, the thoughts of secession. (Yes, the Roe reversal did make me think about that.) But here's a better idea: Liberals should take cues from the conservative movement and inspiration from women's struggles of the past.
It took nearly 100 years to win women's suffrage. Conservatives' dream of overturning Roe took 49 years. Their larger achievement, if you want to call it that, was the equally long-term project of packing the court with hard-line conservatives in order to create a mountain of decisions like the ones we've seen this month.
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Tough, focused and persistent define conservative success. Compare that with unreasonable liberal impatience, even anger, at what has not gotten done in a Senate split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. The reality is it could take years or decades to get enough Democratic senators to kill the filibuster, restore majority rule and pass the abortion, gun and voting laws the public wants. (And there's always the risk Republicans will get there first and pass their priorities by any means necessary.)
But that doesn't excuse not trying. How about a 49-year campaign to repeal the Second Amendment's right to bear arms? Or doing whatever it takes, from impeachment to term limits to a mandatory retirement age, to check this court and prevent a repeat?
As New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie writes, Congress does have options. The question is whether only one party (the GOP) has the guts to be bold, or whether Democrats will harness the energy of this moment and keep it going for as long as it takes.
Jill Lawrence is a columnist for USA TODAY and author of "The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock." Follow her on Twitter: @JillDLawrence
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Supreme Court abortion, guns and religion rulings could ruin America