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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
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Opinion: The left has been weak on abortion rights

Norma+McCorvey%2C+left%2C+who+was+Jane+Roe+in+the+1973+Roe+v.+Wade+case%2C+with+her+attorney%2C+Gloria+Allred%2C+outside+the+Supreme+Court+in+April+1989%2C+where+the+Court+heard+arguments+in+a+case+that+could+have+overturned+the+Roe+v.+Wade+decision.
Photo by Lorie Shaull

Norma McCorvey, left, who was Jane Roe in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, with her attorney, Gloria Allred, outside the Supreme Court in April 1989, where the Court heard arguments in a case that could have overturned the Roe v. Wade decision.

If it is true, as Donald Rumsfeld once warned, that “weakness is provocative,” the left should take the news of Roe v. Wade’imminent demise as an opportunity to assess just how provocative they truly are. Indeed, even if one of the Court’s more conservative members get cold feet — current hopefuls include Brett Kavanaugh, whom the left has accused of being a serial rapist, and Amy Coney Barrett, whom the left has accused of being in a cult — the days of Roe are clearly numbered. The decision would live on as an animated corpse, surviving solely on the basis of just how patient the justices wish to be. 

And yet, it would be wrong to say that we arrived here purely as the result of Mitch McConnell’s machinations, or the machinations of the Republican Party more generally. Any intellectually honest assessment of the left’s predicament must acknowledge what they have gotten wrong over the years. Too often, they have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

In recent political memory, the trouble began during the Obama Administration, back when Democrats held strong majorities in the Senate. In 2013, President Obama had a lunch with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during which he intimated that she should retire so he could replace her with a younger justice. Ginsburg rebuffed him, and Obama ultimately let the matter drop. Seven years later, Ginsburg’s untimely death allowed President Trump to install arch-conservative Amy Coney Barrett, who looks to undo much of Ginsburg’s legacy, not only with respect to Roe. 

The right, it should be noted, played their hand much more deftly. In order to make Justice Anthony Kennedy more comfortable with the idea of retirement, the Trump Administration frequently sought Kennedy’s advice on lower court appointments and filled Scalia’s vacant Supreme Court seat with Neil Gorsuch, one of Kennedy’s former clerks. Brett Kavanaugh is also a former clerk of Kennedy’s. 

Then there are the voters. Liberals talk a great deal about how keeping abortion legal is a “life or death matter,” but with the exception of the usual suspects — abortion providers, campaign volunteers, the occasional political activist — they don’t quite seem to believe it.

When the Pew Research Center asked Clinton voters which issues were “very important” to their vote in 2016, only 50%  answered abortion, and only 62% answered Supreme Court appointments. Those numbers may sound high, but given the vacancy on the Court left by Justice Antonin Scalia — and the subsequent possibility of securing abortion rights for another generation — those numbers should have been in line with how conservatives viewed issues like the economy (90%) and terrorism (89%). 

The left can complain all they want about the Republicans “stealing” a Supreme Court seat, but at the end of the day, all they had to do was beat a presidential candidate who openly promised to close the border to Muslims and bragged about sexually assualting women

Really, that failure tells you all you need to know about the difference between the right and left in this country. The left is incapable of seizing an opportunity when it falls into their laps. The right invents opportunities out of thin air. 

We’re in the endgame now 

There is little reason to think the justices will move slowly. Roe was decided on January 22, 1973, and since January 23, 1973, conservatives have been angling to overturn it. In that time, they have created new standards for constitutional interpretation; they have held open a Supreme Court seat; and they have stuffed the Court with a special breed of conservative for whom the words “stare decisis”are about as foreign as they are to the American public writ large. Their time has come, and it would be foolish of them — a betrayal to their movement, really — not to seize it.

All of which, of course, says nothing about the important work they have left to do. The endgame for the pro-life movement has never been to toss the issue back to the states. Rather, it has been to proscribe abortion nationwide by whatever means necessary — by law, by Constitutional Amendment or by Supreme Court ruling. 

With that in mind, consider the following passage from Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked draft. It occurs after Alito’s makes clear that, according to the view of the conservatives on the court,  the 14th Amendment only protects rights which are rooted in American history: 

“The inescapable conclusion is that a right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and traditions. On the contrary, an unbroken tradition of prohibiting abortion on pain of criminal punishment persisted from the earliest days of the common law until 1973.” 

Alito’s logic here sounds suspiciously like a movement preparing its final steps. If they are successful, it will take a multi-generational movement — equal parts political, social and legal — to reverse the damage they do. The people who start such a movement are unlikely to be alive by the time it is completed
Does the left have it in them? If past is prologue, the unfortunate answer is no. But if instead the past can be learned from, then the left may yet still have some life.  

Josh Howell is a former Opinion editor for The Battalion and a computer science Ph.D student.

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