TGIF: Week of the Womb

Babies, baby Elon and a Supreme Court leak.

Protesters hold large face cutouts of Supreme Court Justices as they gather in Manhattan’s Foley Square on May 3, 2022. (Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Welcome back. It’s Friday. I hope everyone has their IUDs buckled.

→ Secrecy of the Supreme Court cracks: Never in American history has a full draft opinion leaked from the highest court—until this week in Politico. And what a leak it was.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the draft majority opinion striking down Roe v. Wade. It’s a careful, detailed, 98-page take-down of the landmark 1973 decision. Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett were signed on. We are genuinely back in the 1970s now: We’ve got inflation and we’ve got a ferocious debate about abortion.

Who leaked it? The obvious theory is that it’s a clerk on the left who was upset with the decision. (There are various names floating around Twitter, but we won’t speculate.)The dark horse theory: It came from a conservative clerk who wanted to lock in the vote. The draft is from February, and Justice John Roberts was reportedly against fully overturning Roe v. Wade, so he could perhaps still sway one of those originally in the majority by the time the official decision is handed down.

The day after the Politico story, Justice Roberts launched an investigation into the leak, calling it “absolutely appalling.”

→ Calls for Congress to pass an abortion rights law: Democrats are now under pressure to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would make abortion rights explicitly the law of the land in lieu of Roe. The Women’s Health Protection Act would legalize abortion nationally up until fetal viability. But also—and here is the tricky part—afterward “in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care professional.” It defines health care provider very broadly and says the decision to abort a viable child can be for a woman’s “life or health” without specifying if that is her physical or mental health, so it’s not at all crazy for people to interpret this act as making abortion legal at any time in a pregnancy.

Because of all that: In February of this year, the Senate tried to bring this to a vote and couldn’t. There’s not enough support for it, even among the Democrats, and certainly not without a filibuster. (That’s why Bernie Sanders, for example, has been tweeting about getting rid of the filibuster.)

But the pro-choice movement working to pass some kind of national abortion rights law (one that might actually pass) makes sense because state-by-state laws on abortion are already fraught and will get much worse without Roe. Will red states be doing pregnancy tests at their borders? Missouri’s health director compiled a spreadsheet of Planned Parenthood patients’ last periods, according to a new piece in New York Magazine

→ Muted protests and the usual odd rhetoric: The night of the leak, a protest quickly came together outside the Supreme Court. But it was more muted than I would have expected. I don’t know what exactly explains this. A few ideas: Maybe now that birth control is so easy to come by and so effective, abortion feels slightly less relevant. (The numbers make it clear that the rate of abortion has been falling for decades.) Maybe Plan B has changed the game enough that women are less worried about clinics. Public opinion on the issue of abortion is pretty stable with most Americans wanting some legal abortion and broad opposition against overturning Roe v. Wade.

It’s definitely harder to organize around the issue without being able to say the word woman, or rally under the banner of women’s rights. NPR hosts talked this week about abortion rights as “pregnant people” rights. News sites have stories about “Black birthing people.” There were voices like Wisconsin’s State Rep. Francesca Hong: “Birthing bodies have the right to freedom.” The Washington Post editorial board wrote a whole opinion blasting the decision without using the word woman once. Planned Parenthood long ago muddied its messaging to be about “folks with a vulva.” 

Interesting twist: California Governor Gavin Newsom decided to ignore the new rules. He gave a fiery speech this week and later posted it with: “If men could get pregnant, this wouldn’t even be a conversation” and announced that he will be supporting a pro-choice amendment to the California constitution because  “women will remain protected here.” It’s nice to see some prominent Democrats put away childish things and talk in convincing, normal language again. A challenge like Roe v. Wade on the chopping block might sober up some of TGIF’s favorite targets.

Elizabeth Warren also gave a strong impromptu response

→ Wait, is America on the extreme end of abortion permissiveness? A pro-life friend of mine this week joked that she would settle for Denmark’s abortion laws here. I was confused for a second—I assumed Europe was more liberal on all of this than we old-fashioned religious Americans? Not so. This is one of those facts that doesn’t come up much. While deep red states like Oklahoma and Texas bar abortion earlier than most European countries, most Americans live under far more permissive abortion laws than Europeans. The European laws seem really sensible to me, and if Democrats want to actually pass a national abortion bill they would be smart to look to countries like Denmark and Italy. A great graphic here:

→ But the American right wants stricter rules than Europe: It’s disturbing to hear people like Oklahoma State Senator Warren Hamilton say things like: “A child who is in fact living out part of his or her early life as the unfortunate circumstance of being an ectopic pregnancy is in fact still a unique human being with its own DNA, and I just don’t understand why we’ve created an exception where we allow those children to be murdered but not the others.” This is lunacy because an ectopic pregnancy is nothing but a medical emergency. And it strengthens Democrats’ fears that the GOP really does want to simply control women’s bodies when they read about Louisiana's new fetal personhood bill that would ban abortion “from the moment of fertilization,” effectively making several common birth controls and fertility treatment illegal. If you use an IUD, could you be charged with murder? What about doing IVF and not carrying all the embryos you created?

→ Horse medicine is good now, guys: The abortifacient drug Misoprostol can cause a miscarriage and is a common work-around for those in states with severe abortion laws or few clinics. It’s actually been shown to be effective at causing a miscarriage up until 24 weeks of pregnancy (with 20 weeks being the upper bound for safe usage). Is it easy to get? Yes, it is. Vice News helpfully points out: “Misoprostol is relatively easy to acquire from veterinary sources, since in addition to medically inducing abortions, it's also used to treat ulcers in horses.” Paging Joe Rogan.

→ Smithsonian museums will return looted and stolen items: The Institute’s 21 museums are going to begin the process of “ethical returns.” Anything stolen or taken from a nation under duress or acquired in any ways that would not meet present-day standards will be given back upon request. That’s going to be a lot of items—a whole lot of museum artifacts were just grabbed by explorers or bought for cheap in chaos or nabbed from people who had no idea the value. There’s something sort of fitting about an institution becoming so progressive it decides to slowly dismantle itself and give the parts to prouder communities, bit by bit, like if Berkeley homeowners one-by-one walk out of their beautiful craftsman houses and hand the keys over to Native Americans. The Subarus, too. I’m for it. 

→ Stop attacking America’s comedians: Stand-ups are national treasures who must be protected at all costs. This week, Dave Chapelle was performing at a Netflix festival when a man with a knife jumped on stage and attacked him. The assailant: 23-year-old Isaiah Lee. Immediately on stage ready to fight: Jamie Foxx and Busta Rhymes. This being Los Angeles, the attacker is being charged with only a misdemeanor. Say it with us, now: jokes are jokes. Violence is violence.

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