Opinion | What a post-Roe America demands of us

By India Krug, Senior Staff Columnist

This morning I was thinking about a letter James Baldwin sent to Angela Davis in 1970 with notes on Black liberation and collective action. At the end he said, “If we know, then we must fight for your life as if it were our own — which it is … For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.” 

Last Friday, June 24, Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Neil Gorsuch voted to overturn Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. 

In the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade, the Court concluded that the Constitution recognizes the right to abortion. The right to privacy is inherent in the 14th Amendment’s due process clause and the decision to have an abortion is deeply personal and private. Roe v. Wade set a federal protection on abortion through the first 13 weeks of a pregnancy, or the first trimester. 

Then came Casey v. Planned Parenthood — a 1992 Supreme Court case that effectively weakened the power of Roe by introducing a new standard known as the “undue burden test.” This meant that restrictions on abortion could be imposed at any time during pregnancy, as long as they didn’t make it substantially difficult for someone to get an abortion.  

Now both are gone, and federal protections for people who need safe abortions and abortion providers with them. 11 states have banned or severely limited this common and necessary form of healthcare since Friday, with many more to follow. The Dobbs majority opinion, written by Justice Alito, draws on a legal philosophy known as “originalism.” Alito’s interpretation of the constitution is based on the founders’ intent, or the meaning behind its language at the time it was written. He argued that, “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.”

Justice Thomas added that this decision calls into question other areas the due process clause protects but does not explicitly mention, and that the Court should reconsider past rulings on birth control, marriage equality and ending sodomy laws. 

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what justification they gave, does it? This decision is just one in America’s long history of criminalizing marginalized people and invading bodily autonomy. It follows a pattern of forced Christianity, white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy and classism. 

For many white women, this is the first time they have experienced betrayal by an American institution. But Black, brown and Indigenous people, trans and queer people and disabled people have experienced this their whole lives. I’ve been hearing the phrase, “Roe is just the beginning,” but the beginning was a long time ago. It’s just that too many people ignored the warning signs, perhaps because they were not directly touched by them. I hope this can be a moment that raises the mass consciousness of white women and that they can come to realize that all of our struggles are intertwined. 

Individualism is the enemy of liberation — and it’s what anti-abortion forces are counting on. They’re counting on abortion providers being terrified to accept patients and people being terrified to help one another. They’re counting on people who live in states where abortion is protected or people who have the means to find safe abortions becoming complacent.

This movement needs to be centered around Black, brown and Indigenous people and working class people or it won’t work. We need to strengthen existing systems of community organizing and mutual aid. We need to dedicate ourselves to learning how to best protect each other in the present, and to planning how we can reclaim civil and legal abortion rights in the future. 

What can we do to help as Pittsburghers? First and foremost, we can help by supporting abortion providers at Allegheny Reproductive Health Center and Planned Parenthood Western PA. Our city will be an important one for those seeking safe abortions, and our clinics can easily become overwhelmed. ARHC is seeking food donations and volunteers. If you can help, email [email protected]

Read about Black maternal mortality rates in Pittsburgh. If you have the ability, donate to the Western Pennsylvania Fund for Choice. There are other local organizations to support, including Abortion Defense Committee PGH, Women’s Law Project and New Voices for Reproductive Justice, founded by La’Tasha D. Mayes. Another reproductive justice organization is If/When/How, which provides legal aid, and has a chapter at Pitt Law

You can find lists of funds for vulnerable states and refer friends to resources like National Network of Abortion Funds and Abortion Finder, and online medication services such as Plan C and Aid Access

Be aware of crisis pregnancy centers in Pittsburgh that utilize misleading language to imply they provide abortion care and referrals, such as Women’s Choice Network. City Councilman Bobby Wilson recently introduced a series of bills that regulate deceptive CPC advertising and protect Pittsburgh abortion providers from out-of-state investigation or prosecution. The last bill plans for an abortion ban in Pennsylvania — it instructs City law enforcement agencies to de-prioritize enforcement of any abortion-related crime.

In Pennsylvania, our abortion rights are fragile. The stakes for the governor’s race between Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s Democratic attorney general, and Doug Mastriano, a Republican state senator, could not be higher. For the past eight years, Governor Tom Wolf has been the last line of defense against anti-abortion legislation coming out of the General Assembly. This includes a “heartbeat” bill introduced by Mastriano last March, that bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected—despite the fact that what machines usually hear is electrical activity

But Pennsylvania Republicans, who control both the House and the Senate, can advance their agenda of anti-choice Christian values another way — through a constitutional amendment. Constitutional amendments in Pennsylvania require a bill to pass in both chambers of the General Assembly, two sessions in a row. It then becomes a statewide ballot question. There are already two proposed amendments declaring there is “no right to an abortion or funding for an abortion” under the Pennsylvania constitution. Amendments are not subject to a governor’s veto, so every state legislature seat counts.

That is why we must stay committed to abolition work in Pennsylvania, starting on the local level. The criminalization of abortion means that working to combat mass incarceration, defund the police, educate about adultification bias and end cash bail is more important than ever. Add abolition literature like “Abolition. Feminism. Now.” by Gina Dent, Erica Meiners, Beth Richie and Angela Davis, and “We Do This ‘Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba to your reading list. Learn about what is happening in our Allegheny County Jail. 

So many of us are terrified. I hope we can continue to find ways to generate optimism and joy in our communities. Dancing to music, reaching out to friends and neighbors and spending time outside are all great starts. Remember — it’s up to us to keep each other safe. 

India studies politics and philosophy and listens to a lot of Joni Mitchell. If you’re angry at SCOTUS you can write to her at [email protected] or scream into a pillow. Both are good.