Access to abortion was not the only right protected by Roe v. Wade. The right of conservative politicians to make extreme promises to antiabortion hard-liners, and to pass grandstanding laws without fear they would ever be enforced, was sheltered as well. The end of Roe spells the beginning of accountability for politicians who indulged the fanatics.
This reality is dawning on them. Roe was dead for only a few days before the first monstrous result was reported. A child of 10 in Ohio, raped at least two times, was denied access to an early-term abortion due to a “trigger law” passed by legislators who probably never imagined the unpopular measure would take force. Pandering to their radical base, the lawmakers served up a hard ban on abortion after just six weeks with no exception for rape or incest.
A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that most voters were unaware of, or unclear about, the severe restrictions their legislators were playacting with, back when the Supreme Court prevented such laws from taking effect. But the court pulled the trigger on the trigger laws — and within days, a little girl in grade school, a traumatized crime victim, a child with no real understanding of what was happening to her, was forced to travel out of Ohio for medical care.
The panic on the right was immediate and thunderous. The twin pillars of conservative orthodoxy, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, plunged in recklessly to question whether such a child existed. They couldn’t find her in their Twitter feeds. Their haste revealed a desperate hope that the brutal misogyny of the antiabortion base would not be so plainly demonstrated in such short order.
In their rush, they forgot that stringent privacy laws protect the confidentiality of abuse victims and children; lack of details concerning a child rape victim is normal and laudable. Meanwhile, police went about their work, arrested the rapist and secured a confession. And the Ohio legislature is accountable for its work.
I can’t find evidence that pollsters have ever put this specific question to voters: Should a 10-year-old be forced to carry her rapist’s baby? But I have a guess what the results would look like. Ample survey data shows that a strong majority of Americans favor early-term abortion access and the rape-and-incest exception. I daresay that in their next campaigns, most Ohio politicians would rather not have to defend what the legislature has done to this child.
counterpointThink abortion will salvage the midterms for you, Dems? Not a chance.
The same reluctance can be seen in the campaign of deception underway in Kansas, where the first referendum on abortion rights of the post-Roe era will be held on Aug. 2. Voters are being asked to undo a 2019 ruling by the state Supreme Court that the Kansas Constitution guarantees abortion access.
Substantially funded by the conservative hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Kansas, the campaign is filling mailboxes with postcards soft-pedaling the effect of the proposed amendment. It would not outlaw abortion in Kansas, supporters say reassuringly — not bothering to add that it would green-light whatever antiabortion laws the legislature wishes to enact.
Under the umbrella of Roe, the measure would most likely have passed with little fanfare in a low-turnout summer primary. And it may pass anyway: Kansas is a very red state. But opposition to the amendment has been energized by the realization that conservative lawmakers are beholden to antiabortion extremists.
How extreme? Jim Bopp is an Indiana attorney who, as general counsel for National Right to Life, drafted model legislation for the Republican lawmakers who compete vigorously for the group’s endorsement. Bopp candidly told Politico that his bill would ban abortion at any stage of pregnancy with only one exception: lifesaving surgery. In other words, yes, in Bopp’s model world, that child in Ohio would have no choice but to carry her pregnancy to delivery.
Jeff Durbin, a Phoenix-area pastor whose YouTube channel boasts 300,000 followers, would go still further, granting legal “personhood” to any fertilized human egg and making pregnant people criminally liable for an abortion. In her portrait of the self-styled “abortion abolition” movement, the excellent Elizabeth Dias of the New York Times quoted a colleague of Durbin who felt no punishment was too severe. Of her own abortion, she said: “I took a life, I should give my life.”
Such zealotry can no longer be ignored. Protected by Roe, the conservative position on abortion has moved steadily toward extreme stances like these. The old goals — parental notification, waiting periods, clinic regulations and so forth — have been replaced by blindly draconian bans. And having courted the activists for decades, Republicans will not easily swing back toward more nuanced views embraced by the American mainstream. They have been playing footsie in the dark with some dangerous people; the Supreme Court has switched on the lights.
Roe v. Wade and abortion access in America
What happens next?: The legality of abortion will be left to individual states. That likely will mean 52 percent of women of childbearing age would face new abortion limits. Thirteen states with “trigger bans” will ban abortion within 30 days. Several other states where recent antiabortion legislation has been blocked by the courts are expected to act next.
State legislation: As Republican-led states move to restrict abortion, The Post is tracking legislation across the country on 15-week bans, Texas-style bans, trigger laws and abortion pill bans, as well as Democratic-dominated states that are moving to protect abortion rights enshrined in Roe v. Wade.
How our readers feel: In the hours that followed the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Washington Post readers responded in droves to a callout asking how they felt — and why.