Voices: America doesn’t have a real democracy. The Roe v Wade draft opinion proves it

·4-min read
Supreme Court Abortion (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Supreme Court Abortion (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The Supreme Court intends to overthrow Roe v. Wade, and with it much if not all of the Constitutional right to privacy, according to a draft opinion leaked to Politico. Republican justices claim that they are embracing the original intent of the founders. But the decision cannot be called democratic.

Alito’s draft opinion is meant to give states sweeping control over people’s bodies and intimate lives. But public opinion polls have long shown conclusively that the public supports abortion rights. In 2019, a Pew poll once again found that 70 percent of Americans want to preserve Roe; only 28 percent said they wanted the decision completely overturned. In line with that finding, 59 percent of Americans said they were concerned that states were making it too difficult to get abortions; 39 percent said states were making it too easy.

Voting patterns aren’t a referendum on any one issue. But it’s significant that the party that supports abortion rights has consistently received more votes. Republicans have only won popular vote majorities in presidential elections once in the last 30 years.

Since presidents choose Supreme Court justices, you’d think that consistent domination of presidential elections over three decades would result in a solidly Democratic, solidly pro-choice Supreme Court. But as we know, that hasn’t happened.

Instead, Republican have remained competitive, and more than competitive, because American institutions are catastrophically tilted towards minority rule. Large, empty states dominated by rural white voters have disproportionate power in the Electoral College which chooses the president. They have even more power in the Senate, which votes on Supreme Court justices.

Data journalist G.Elliot Morris says that to win the Senate, Democrats need to win the popular vote by six points. Without a Democratic landslide, Republicans control the chamber. In other words, the GOP can take very unpopular stances that don’t reflect what the American people actually want and still hold onto power.

Republicans have used their disproportionate power to tear apart democratic institutions and further entrench minority rule. A conservative Supreme Court, placed in power by the systemic bias towards the GOP, gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. That in turn allowed states to reinstitute new versions of Jim Crow era restrictions like poll taxes and voter suppression laws intended to keep Black voters, who vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, from the polls.

Aggressive Republican gerrymandering in states like Wisconsin allows the GOP to hold supermajorities in the legislature even when they lose the popular vote statewide. Led by former president Donald Trump, the GOP has passed laws that allow Republican-controlled states to meddle in election administration, potentially nullifying Democratic victories. The GOP dream is one-party rule in which only votes for Republicans count.

Not surprisingly, the embrace of an authoritarian system is done in the name of frankly authoritarian outcomes. Republicans want to use their unpopular minority rule to impose draconian restrictions on personal freedom and autonomy. They are determined to force pregnant individuals to carry fetuses to term. They believe that the state has the right to control people’s bodies, inside and out. There is no space where theocratic, authoritarian rule does not extend. This is not what freedom or liberty looks like.

Nor is there any humanitarian exception from GOP absolute power. In the past, abortion restrictions have generally had an exception for cases of rape and incest. But the newest state voting laws force victims of sexual assault to carry pregnancies to term as well.

Exceptions to protect the life of the mother have also been eroded. State anti-abortion language is often unclear and medically muddled; doctors and providers can’t be sure which procedures are allowed and will have to choose between saving pregnant people’s lives and facing draconian punishments.

There’s no reason to think that the Court’s authoritarian ambitions will stop there, either. Alito’s draft opinion also calls into question Lawrence v. Texas, which bans anti-sodomy laws, and Obergefell vs. Hodges, which protects marriage equality. Alito insists he’s not targeting cases which protect interracial marriage and contraception — but the very fact that he has to specifically say he’s not going after those makes it clear how fragile any right to autonomy and privacy is under this court.

Democrats hope that the unpopularity of an abortion ban — and the inevitable horror stories as women are tormented and killed by an arbitrary, violent state — will cause an electoral backlash. But Republicans have been working for decades to make sure that they are immune to electoral backlash.

Our current democratic systems do not lead to democratic outcomes. Instead, more and more consistently, they lead to authoritarianism. The Supreme Court is taking another inexorable step towards an America in which people have no control over their votes or their bodies, but exist merely to obey and suffer at the whim of Sam Alito and his cronies in tyranny.

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