- JCI Blog
What are you waiting for?
By: Kayla Butler & Sydney Kovach
I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. Except I am mad.
It’s crazy to think that it was just a week ago when Justice Alito’s decision on overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked. It feels like it’s been a million years since then.
The Democratic Party is constantly telling us to “just elect more Dems.” It is crystal clear now that they have been dangling the protection of reproductive rights for years as a talking point when they run for office without following through on their promises.
As the Supreme Court, an ostensibly apolitical governing body, dances around the idea of restricting and rolling back protections for Roe v. Wade, we can’t help but think about the many times in history when Democratic presidents have campaigned or promised to protect the right to choose–and yet it’s still not protected.
Here’s a brief timeline:
Three months after taking office in 1992, President Clinton urged Congress to repeal all restrictions on federal funding of abortion, including the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal Medicaid funds for abortion except when the life of the woman would be endangered by carrying the pregnancy to term. Even if the Hyde Amendment were repealed, the Clinton Administration said it would respect "state flexibility" and would not force individual states to weaken their own restrictions on state funding of Medicaid abortions. To this day, the Hyde Amendment remains law.
And then after eight years of Bush, we elected Barack Obama:
In 2008, Obama promised to sign the Freedom of Choice Act “first thing” as President during a speech made to Planned Parenthood in 2008. Then, a year later, Obama said the bill was not his “highest legislative priority.”
On March 24, 2010 Obama signed an executive order that reinforced a commitment to preservation of the Hyde Amendment within the context of recent health care legislation.
And then after four years of Trump, we once again elected a Democrat who promised us that he would protect reproductive rights:
In 2019, Biden tweeted, “Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, and we must fight any and all attempts to overturn it. As president, I will codify Roe into law and ensure this choice remains between a woman and her doctor.”
Biden’s 2022 presidential budget proposal, which Congress uses as a starting point to allocate federal funds, did not include the Hyde Amendment. The proposals also expanded federal funding for reproductive health care programs. However, some Democrats in congress resisted the change, adding the amendment back into the final budget. Biden’s 2023 federal budget proposal also excludes the Hyde Amendment, but congress has yet to finalize the 2023 budget.
After nearly 30 years of promises and 30 years of abortion rights actually being withered away in states across the country, but democrats want us to keep electing them even through on their promises? So they can “protect” our rights?
The assault on our rights is already in the works. 13 states have indicated they will ban abortion by passing trigger laws, which would automatically make abortion illegal in the first and second trimesters if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Similarly, 9 states still have pre-Roe v. Wade abortion bans that cannot be enforced due to the 1973 Supreme Court ruling. Once Roe v. Wade is overturned, these archaic bans could be enforced, setting progress towards equality back decades. Explore the Guttmacher Institute’s state legislation tracker of major developments in sexual and reproductive health.
Attempts to undermine and limit reproductive rights have not existed in a vacuum. Something that scares us is also the idea that other fundamental human rights like same-sex marriage could also be overturned because of the precedent this leaked decision sets. It’s critical to pay attention to the fact that Justice Alito mentioned Obergefell v. Hodges in the draft decision because he is alluding that if Roe were to fall, they’d come for Obergefell too.
States aren’t waiting for this decision to be formally handed down to start rolling back on rights previously guaranteed by these other Supreme Court cases. A new Alabama law that targets trans youth went into effect on May 8th and is a major cause for concern for LGBTQ+ people, their families, and allies. This law, known as “The Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act,” makes it a felony for doctors to prescribe hormones and puberty blockers for those under age 19, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The Alabama law is a part of a wider agenda of anti-trans youth legislation popping up across Republican-controlled states. However, this bill is extreme as it targets health care providers with potential felony charges. Dr. Morissa Ladinsky, an Alabama pediatrician who treats gender dysphoria in children, testified during the bill’s federal court hearing: “This will force us into a place of risking a felony conviction for providing evidence-based care.”
As we’ve seen, many states have been prompted these past few years to restrict fundamental rights. With members of the GOP advocating for the banning of birth control, rollbacks on Trans healthcare, and limitations on speech in Florida, it’s clear that it’s actually not just about abortions. It's about control and reversing fundamental rights that were given in order to create some semblance of equity. So, this attack and reversal on the decision of Roe v. Wade is not just an attack on abortions and reproductive justice, but a wider attack on all fundamental rights that we’ve fought tooth and nail for over the past few decades.
Having access to legal abortion is critical for so many reasons. In U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s testimony in front of the Senate Banking Committee on May 10, she warned that removing women’s right to access abortions would have "very damaging effects" on the U.S. economy, as it would prevent many women from completing their educations and present obstacles for contributing to the economy. As a result, women could see a reduction in lifetime earnings potential or could be shut out of the workforce all together. According to the Center for American Progress women’s labor contributes $7.6 trillion to the nation’s GDP each year. If abortion were to be banned nationally, the U.S. GDP would tumble. The impact of the reversal of Roe v. Wade will be felt by everyone across the country.
One would think that if a potential president would campaign on the protection of a basic fundamental human right, they’d follow through. The instances of Clinton, Obama, and now Biden sitting around waiting for this moment to occur, goes to show how little they care about what the people want. This year the Democrat-controlled House passed the Women’s Health Protection Act, but in February the Senate failed to clear the 60-vote threshold needed to pass the filibuster and be brought to the floor for discussion. The filibuster is a Senate Rule that requires 60 votes to end debate on legislation, allowing for the delay or prevention of a vote on a bill.
Ending the filibuster, would mean that Congress could codify Roe and pass a federal law guaranteeing a person’s right to obtain an abortion in all 50 states. Linda McClain, a law professor at Boston University said, “For 50 years, this issue has ultimately wound up in the courts. And now this need to have legislative protections is all the more urgent.”
Only 49 senators voted in support of codifying abortion rights Wednesday. In order to codify Roe, we’d have to end the filibuster. However, in order to eliminate the filibuster, the text of Senate Rule 22 would have to formally be changed. The Senate majority could prevent senators from filibustering the motion used to call up a bill to start. This would preserve senators’ rights to obstruct the bill or amendment at hand, but would eliminate the supermajority obstacle for starting debate on a legislative measure.
With fundamental rights being chipped away, it’s time to end the filibuster and codify Roe.
What are you waiting for?