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Our view: A sea change in abortion rights

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The Supreme Court’s overturn of abortion rights on Friday — signaled by a leaked draft opinion in early May and anticipated with dread by many — is historic for many reasons, including that it’s one of the few times in our history that the court has ruled to contract a constitutionally recognized right rather than expand one.

It also isn’t the end of the abortion issue at all. It’s just another chapter in the saga of a conscience-challenging, stomach-churning, divisive topic that will toss the nation into further turmoil — just when we need it the least.

The court’s 6-3 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization asserts that Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision that reaffirmed the right to abortion, were wrong the day they were decided.

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the court’s majority opinion.

On the surface, that statement seems shallow to the point of misleading. Many topics are not discussed by name in the Constitution, but we still expect constitutional principles to determine their validity.

Alito also asserted that the court’s decision should have no influence on other matters: “Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion,” he wrote.

But in a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas asserted just the opposite — that this decision justified the court revisiting decisions on contraception and same-sex marriage. Conservative activists had already signaled their intention to attack those rights, should this be the ruling. Overall, the majority opinion seems steeped in dishonesty and/or naivete. It’s no wonder that a majority of Americans see the Supreme Court as being overly politicized.

After the announcement Friday, abortion immediately became illegal to some degree in about 22 states, thanks to trigger bans. North Carolina is one of the last states in the South to protect abortion rights, and is likely to remain so for the time being — unless the Republican-led legislature regains a supermajority in November that allows it to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto.

But the notion that we’ll simply be divided into blue states that allow abortion and red states that don’t is overly simplistic, when abortion opponents are already pushing laws to punish individuals and businesses that assist women who acquire abortions by traveling beyond state lines — as well as pushing for a federal law to outlaw the medical procedure.

To a large degree, this is why many tolerated former President Trump — because of his promise to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe. Despite each Trump appointee’s insistence that they would respect legal precedent, Trump told the truth for once. No one should have believed them.

Yet the court’s decision is ultimately the result, not just of one presidential election, but of many decades of Republican strategy — including its support for “originalist” organizations like the Federalist Society — and Democratic complacency, sitting out off-year elections and failing to make their case effectively before the American people. No one should take politics lightly anymore, not when political decisions can be so consequential.

Many likely spent the weekend feeling despair and/or anger at the ruling, especially women who sense their bodily autonomy, their ability to make decisions about their own lives, being ripped from their hands and laid at the feet of uncaring government agents.

“Withdrawing a woman’s right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy does not mean that no choice is being made,” Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote in their dissent. “It means that a majority of today’s Court has wrenched this choice from women and given it to the States. Women have relied on Roe and Casey in this way for 50 years. Many have never known anything else.

“When Roe and Casey disappear, the loss of power, control, and dignity will be immense.”

Sen. Thom Tillis noted his agreement with the ruling in a press release on Friday, but added: “This is a very emotional and sensitive issue for many Americans, and I urge calm and respect for the Court’s decision and hope people who have strong feelings on both sides will voice them peacefully.”

We agree. Reacting brashly in the heat of the moment will accomplish nothing.

But there’s plenty of time to act — and to organize for the November election, which will represent a dramatic turning point for the nation — for good or for ill.


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