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America’s Orbans


One general historical truth about emergencies is that they tend to give leverage for leaders to do things unrelated to the emergency that they wanted to do ex ante. For Republican governors, this means “forcing women to carry pregnancies to term”:

While America’s attention has been consumed by the coronavirus crisis, politicians who have long wanted to do away with abortion rights have seized their chance. Since the pandemic began, governors in several red states have tried to use it as an excuse to ban abortion, lumping pregnancy termination in with elective procedures like cataract surgery and joint replacements that need to be postponed to save precious medical equipment. Abortion, perhaps needless to say, can’t simply be put off until this catastrophe is over, but as of this writing, a court has allowed the ban in Texas to go into effect.

Authoritarians all over the world have exploited the coronavirus to scrap civil liberties. In Hungary, where democracy has been eroding for years, Viktor Orban used the pandemic to institute rule by decree. In Jordan and Thailand, leaders have used the pandemic as an excuse for cracking down on the press. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and his allies have frozen the Knesset and shut down most courts, postponing Netanyahu’s own arraignment on corruption charges. American autocrats are no less opportunist. With the country in a panic, they saw an opening to suspend the guarantees of Roe v. Wade, at least for the moment, and they took it.

As in the days before Roe, some will now likely turn to D.I.Y. abortion methods. Even before the coronavirus, women in Texas, where strict abortion laws have led to widespread clinic closures, had relatively high rates of attempted self-abortion. A January study by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas at Austin found that 6.9 percent of women seeking abortions at clinics first tried to end their pregnancies on their own, compared to 2.2 percent nationally.

Of course, by the time the pandemic is abated states are very likely to be able produce the same outcome by statute.

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