I grew up an hour outside Los Angeles in the Reagan era, so I don’t know how this went in Texas. Tenth grade was when kids carried around raw eggs, or sacks of sugar or flour, or both to pretend they were caring for a baby. Kids took this on as part of “life skills” class; other kids were asked to interact with the “parents” as they would with someone holding a real newborn. At my school, the “parents” got to choose between the fragile, tender eggs and the heavy, burdensome sacks, which tracked pretty closely with what I knew of my classmates’ views on abortion, which we talked about a lot in the mid-1980s.
Old people like me remember the last time the GOP lined up a Supreme Court that they thought would overturn Roe v. Wade. But Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter turned on them and toward Lady Justice and gave us Planned Parenthood v. Caseywhich opened the door to restrictions on abortion that did not create an “undue burden” on those seeking one, but reaffirmed the “central holding” of Roe that the right to a pre-viability abortion was protected by the 14th Amendment.
Casey was decided in 1992, at which point I was already in Austin writing for this newspaper, but the law it challenged – the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act (Gov. Bob Casey, father of the current senator, was an anti-abortion Catholic Democrat) – was adopted in 1982, when I was in 10th grade. During that decade everybody knew that Roe was at risk as two Republican presidents appointed five justices between them. There had already been a Missouri case in 1989 (Webster v. Reproductive Health Services) that could have overturned Roe had O’Connor not balked. But the center held, because abortion was a top-of-mind concern and the right to choose had persistent and effective advocates who knew most Americans agreed with them, and O’Connor – the only justice in the Roe era to have held elective office – heard them, and Roe survived another 30 years.
I am only Gen X old. Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Jim Clyburn, and the whole lot of old-as-dirt institutional Democrats who lead the country now were all there when this went down. They all knew that every GOP appointee to the Supreme Court since Casey has been told that a vote to overturn Roe was the price of admission, none of this Souter business. They all knew when Apesh*t became president that he would appoint pre-cleared justices – he even provided a list. Inevitably, the time and case came through to overturn Roeand what did our leaders give us? Thoughts and prayers.
Caring for the Children
I know the framing of our elderly leaders as parents or grandparents – and the paternalism of institutional Democrats that it reflects – is gross, but if it’s gonna be that way, then at least do that job properly. They’ve been carrying this egg, this bag of sugar, for their entire careers. The most powerful people in America should want to execute their duties with the same care for Americans as a parent has for a child, while also treating them as equals worthy of respect. That’s why leadership is hard! We really could have used some this weekend.
One option would have been an instant flurry of executive orders that use every tool in the federal toolbox to preserve abortion access in red states. Such was proposed by the congressional stand-in for the elders’ actual children and grandchildren, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, on her social media platforms this weekend – the place where wounded and enraged Americans came to vent over the first weekend of the Dobbs era. The elders paid no attention, apparently deciding to let the babies cry themselves to sleep. Even Kamala Harris, who is three years older than me and was three years out of law school when Casey was decided, got stuck with delivering thoughts-and-prayers messaging and the high-pressure call to vote in the midterms. Only voting can save us! Vote harder!
Not all of AOC’s policy advice is fully cooked, but her campaign advice is usually solid. I tried to abide by her instructions in writing an election guide to lay out who, specifically, you can vote or volunteer for or contribute to if you want to protect reproductive freedom. But the election is five months from now; much can be done before then. Some of it could be done by executive order, or by Pelosi breaking up the Women’s Health Protection Act (the so-far-unsuccessful attempt to “codify” Roe) into sharp-edged little pieces and kicking them over to the Senate to make vulnerable GOP senators take public votes against them. Make them endorse the most abusive and absurd components of current red-state abortion law, such as the Texas Alternatives to Abortion program that got properly skewered on NBC News this week by Austin’s own state Rep. Donna Howard.
But you know what this Gen X parent would have done this weekend? Put Harris onstage at a town hall where real people in a normal place in, say, Pennsylvania, could share with her and, through her, with the president and House speaker how losing their bodily autonomy feels, and let Harris share how losing her autonomy feels, with the imprimatur of a White House that we all know disagrees with Dobbs. Instead, the elders’ paralyzing fear of losing control – the same impulse that led Pelosi to come down here to endorse anti-abortion Rep. Henry Cuellar in person – has left a sucking silence where the party and country’s heart and soul could have been.