Terry H. Schwadron
April 19, 2022
Just the threat that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn or severely limit abortions has Republican-led states competing at an increasing pace to ban or halt legal abortion law. Several news outlets are reporting the trend, which Axios summarizes well.
The same states have also been targeted parental rights as an avenue to challenge school curricula and books, have been active in halting participation of transgender student athletes and are renewing discussion of religious exemption from cases governing what they see as promotion of objectionable same-sex marriages and relationships.
With elections coming into focus, the culture wars are heating up, further dividing what everyday life looks like in red or blue states.
Yes, it may be that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority will further narrow abortion rights and some of the other liberalizing gender identity fronts touched by decisions of past years, but it seems notable that Republican-majority state legislatures and governors — otherwise insistent on law, order and strict interpretations — are moving ahead without court decisions that would make their political objectives legal.
As always, abortion cases remain at the head of this right-turning queue.
As of mid-April, 86 bills have been introduced to restrict or outright ban abortion in 31 states this year alone, according to Guttmacher Institute data. Six bans have been enacted in 2022, with one being blocked by lower courts.
With some variation, Oklahoma, Florida and Kentucky all now have new laws that go beyond legal limits established in Roe v. Wade and its various follow-up cases, generally banning abortions after six or 15 weeks of pregnancy. Another 13, including a new law in Wyoming, legislatures have enacted “trigger” laws to ban abortions that would take effect immediately if the Supreme Court overturns or weakens Roe.
Some ignore rape and incest or require that abortions be recorded on state documents. In the last weeks, there was a case in Texas where local officials arrested a woman who aborted, then were forced to drop the case for lack of any law under which the arrest was warranted.
Democrats for States’ Rights?
At the same time, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is inviting women from other states to come to New York for abortions that the legislature has guaranteed will continue.
An article in The New Yorker magazine notes that we are quickly moving into a political set-up in which the political parties will have changed sides on states’ rights in the frenzy to circumvent what are expected to be restrictions on laws governing access to abortion. It will be liberals who will be advocating for leaving the matter to the states or seeking novel methods to get around federal law.
In any event, the New Yorker concludes, “Whether or not it would take another fifty years or more for a fetal right to unfold, the pro-life legal movement has demonstrated its ability to fight the long fight.” Further, the evidence shows, no one is waiting for the court to deliver its verdict.
That Texas law that encourages vigilante enforcement by anyone seen as abetting an abortion after only six weeks of pregnancy is successfully avoiding challenge in the courts that have heard it to date. The state’s abortions have shut down, and neighboring states had been reporting more abortions — prompting the actions in Oklahoma, Arizona, Louisiana and elsewhere. A new law in Idaho was blocked through court challenge, but the effort to secure limitations was moving well ahead of any Supreme Court ruling.
An article in TalkingPointsMemo.com argues that these restrictions are having unanticipated ill effects on those suffering miscarriages as well as on abortions. The disappearances of clinics handling women’s health issues are having a wider effect on other aspects of personal health.
The Nature of the Discourse
Seeking broader interpretation, columnist Caren White in Medium.com notes that red and blue states “have gone to war with each other, not just the federal government.”
As an example, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made a recent speech about the governor’s race in neighboring Georgia that promises “a cold war” between Florida and Georgia if Democrat Stacey Adams wins against sitting Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican.
“I can’t have Castro to my south and Abrams to my north, that would be a disaster. So, I hope you guys take care of that, and we’ll end up in good shape,” DeSantis told a press conference two weeks ago. Of course, no Castro currently is governing Cuba, and it it’s not immediately clear what the two states might war over if Abrams were to win, but the sentiment seems important.
It seems troublesome enough that we have a Supreme Court majority that is insisting on revisiting multiple cases of “settled” law to further outwardly partisan political goals affecting abortion, religious rights, gender and identity without having conservative-run states moving on ahead of any actual decisions.
For sure, the trend is that the already coarsened dialog in this country over values is now moving at a hastened pace.
Florida’s Department of Education moved this week to bar 40 percent of elementary math books offered by publishers ostensibly because they were seen as somehow promoting Critical Race Theory, which is not taught in any public school in the state, or otherwise running afoul of whatever it is that conservatives find objectionable. Wait, what? Math books are pushing critical race theory? Neither in the various news accounts nor in the state press releases was there any example noted; this is not an attempt to persuade, just to bully through one side.
Indeed, the lessons being learned here are all about political might deciding on cultural right.
At a time of serious disagreement, it seems more important than ever to conduct the debate in clear, persuasive terms that comport with law, not run ahead of it.