On May 2, just hours after Cherisse Scott, founder and CEO of SisterReach, Memphis’ reproductive justice organization, and I were fretting about the horrors awaiting Tennessee women if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, things got real.
A draft of the highly awaited opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court in a Missis
sippi case that would ban abortion after 15 weeks and force rape and incest victims to give birth to their predator’s child, was leaked to Politico.
It turned out to be the horror we anticipated.
The decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito and signed off on by justices Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett, would, if it stands, strip women of the right to end a pregnancy. It’s a right that women have held for nearly 50 years; one that respects their health and their humanity.
In Roe, the justices held that privacy rights were implicit in the Fourteenth Amendment, which protects individual rights, and those protections were broad enough to include a woman’s right to an abortion.
But the decision that would overturn Roe flips the script on that reasoning by, among other things, essentially painting state governments as victims of that decision, when the real victims were women and girls who died, or who almost died, from using coat hangers or caustic substances to end pregnancies.
In Alito’s draft, those victims are all but invisible.
“I had a whole anxiety attack that night,” Scott said, about learning of the Supreme Court draft. “Not necessarily because I wasn’t aware of what was coming, but because of the gravity of it and what it’s about to mean for people like me or you…”
If Roe is scrapped, the states will survive. But many women and girls – especially Black women and girls in Tennessee who die at twice the rate of white women during childbirth – won’t.
Especially since that reversal would come at a time when, in states like Tennessee, laws that are supposed to protect people’s health are being shaped by legislators who are guided by zealotry and not science.
That’s already proven to be a disaster here.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Tennessee consistently ranked as one of the top states with the highest rates of deaths and infections.
But instead of supporting efforts to encourage masks and vaccinations, despite scientific evidence that masks and vaccines stop the spread of COVID-19 and hospitalizations, anti-science crazies in the General Assembly did the opposite: Last year, they held a special session to pass a law forbidding governments from instituting mask mandates at any level and restricted private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination from their workers or regular COVID-19 tests for workers who didn’t want to be vaccinated.
That may be why, as late as this past January, Tennessee ranked first among the states per 100,000 people for COVID-19 deaths.
If that pattern holds, his state will invariably restrict abortions based on ideology and ignorance.
And women will die.
Tennessee has a law ready to go into effect if Roe is overturned. Under that law, virtually all abortions would be banned, even for rape and incest victims. Doctors who perform abortions would be subject to criminal prosecutions.
Tennessee also passed a law in 2020 - one that a federal judge blocked - that required abortion clinics to post a sign in waiting areas saying that they can reverse a medication abortion.
No matter that science doesn’t support that.
And if anti-science legislatures, like the one we have in Tennessee, get to make abortion laws, expect more laws to be shaped by science fiction.
Like what’s happening in Louisiana.
In that state, a GOP committee has advanced a bill that defines a fertilized egg as a person – which it is not.
Seeing that no woman knows of the moment when an egg is fertilized, this law sets a trap for women to be prosecuted for murder if they choose an abortion even at the earliest stages.
Mississippi tried the same thing in 2011 through a ballot initiative that would declare a fertilized egg to be a human being and would effectively ban all abortion and subject women seeking abortions and doctors performing them to criminal persecution.
It failed, but if Roe falls, anti-abortion lawmakers everywhere will be emboldened to devise such laws again; laws which would not only have grave implications for women who don’t want babies, but for women who do, and are trying to conceive through in-vitro fertilization.
That process requires numerous eggs to be fertilized for a viable one to be implanted in a woman’s uterus. The spare frozen embryos can be saved or donated, but some don’t survive the thawing process.
If anti-abortion laws declare fertilized eggs as human, then that leaves in-vitro clinics and patients liable to be prosecuted for murder, or to be investigated for murder, for discarding those embryos.
Just like a woman who has an ectopic pregnancy and must seek an abortion or die, could be prosecuted for murder for trying to live.
In other words, it’ll be a hot mess.
Tennessee’s anti-abortion trigger law doesn’t go that far. But seeing that the Republican supermajority called a whole session to strip businesses, schools, and other public entities from requiring masks and vaccines to stop people from dying or being sickened by a pandemic, it’s not a stretch to imagine that if the Supreme Court hands them the power to further restrict abortions, they’ll go to those extremes.
What’s especially sad here, as it is in other red states, is that such laws have nothing to do with saving babies and everything to do with salvaging whatever privileges white men thought they lost when women gained control over their reproductive destinies.
If it was about children’s lives, Tennessee would expand Medicaid, fix its broken Department of Children’s Services, and see to it that all the women who’ll be forced to give birth will have a rural hospital to give birth in.
That’s not happening.
So, if the Supreme Court’s draft becomes the law of the land, more babies won’t be delivered. But more women will be delivered into the hands of people who see science as an instrument of Satan and an impediment to their obsessions with making women pay for their sins.
And just like lawmakers chose to protect their ideology over science to stop a pandemic from killing people, if Roe falls, there’ll be nothing to stop them from making anti-science laws that will cause women to die from trying to seek abortions.
Unless, of course, those of us who know better step up.
Already, Scott is on the case.
If Roe is overturned, SisterReach will use it as an opportunity to mobilize people whose race, ethnic, sexual orientation and economic backgrounds will make them vulnerable to oppressive laws that could arise, and provide services, such as sexual health education and safer sex kits with emergency contraception, to those who need it, she said.
“And we will continue speaking out about anti-abortion tactics and other Christian extremist actions which limit people from living the abundant lives they deserve,” Scott said in a press release.
Lives which don't limit women to being human incubators.