Four Things To Remember When Reading Gonzales v. Carhart
As an antidote against the inevitable chorus of fake moderates arguing that today’s abortion case is no big deal, four things to keep in mind as you ponder today’s decision:
- Don’t take assertions by the Court about whether they’re overturning precedents or not at face value. What matters is the substance of the ruling, not how the Court characterizes past precedents. (The Court went out of its way to avoid saying that they were overturning Plessy in Brown, and then applied it as if it meant exactly that.) Moreover, the Roberts/Alito strategy of quietly gutting precedents–epitomized in this case–is much worse for those who oppose their legal goals than the Thomas/Scalia willingness to overturn precedents directly and honestly. The result of this type of case is a sharp restriction in the reproductive freedom of women without the political benefits of an outright reversal.
- Making it much harder to successfully strike an abortion statute on facial grounds, as the Court has just done, may seem like a mere technicality but is a big deal. I explain why here. Not only will this change in the standard applied by Casey make litigation to protect a woman’s reproductive freedom much more expensive and difficult, but it will have the perverse effect of making the fact that abortion regulations almost invariably have much more impact on poor, rural women an argument in their favor.
- The next time someone claims that overturning Roe would “send the issue back to the states,” make sure to point out that they don’t have any idea what the hell they’re talking about.
- And finally, let’s also remember the underlying gender assumptions of those who support the power of the states and the federal government. Ann has already noted this powerful passage in Justice Ginsburg’s brilliant dissent: “Revealing in this regard, the Court invokes an antiabortion shibboleth for which it concededly has no reliable evidence: Women who have abortions come to regret their choices, and consequently suffer from ‘[s]evere depression and loss of esteem.’ Because of women’s fragile emotional state and because of the bond of love the mother has for her child,’ the Court worries, doctors may withhold information about the nature of the intact D&E procedure. The solution the Court approves, then, is not to require doctors to inform women, accurately and adequately, of the different procedures and their attendant risks. Instead, the Court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety. This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women’s place in the family and under the Constitution ideas that have long since been discredited.” Given Alito’s assumption that the state has the same interest in regulating married adult women as it has in regulating children, that he would vote to uphold this ban isn’t exactly shocking.
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