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The Post-Roe Era Begins

Political and practical questions in an America without a constitutional right to abortion.

We knew it was coming and yet it still feels like a shock. Yesterday the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion.

I spent the day reading through the 6-3 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and trying to tune out the noise on Twitter, though it’s hard. I saw on social media that gay marriage and maybe even contraception were next on the chopping block, and I frantically texted a judge I know hoping for clarity and comfort. It’s a good weekend to take a deep breath and stay offline. Read the decision for yourself, not through the manic lens of Twitter.

What’s clear is that this decision heralds a new era in American politics. In the country’s 13 states with trigger laws, including Texas and Alabama and Missouri and Tennessee, abortion is already or will very soon be illegal. In six other states, governors and state legislatures are expected to impose new restrictions. And in another 10, new restrictions are on the table. Dramatic change, which will alter the lives of American women and their families, is sweeping more than half the states in the union.  

There are so many questions that remain unanswered. 

Political ones: Will Democrats attempt to pass a national law, in the mold of Ireland or France, legalizing abortion under, say, 14 weeks? Will the kind of violence we have seen against pro-life centers over the past few weeks spread more widely? How will the majority of Americans who opposed the repeal of Roe come to see the Court in the wake of this decision?

Practical ones: What happens when a woman in San Antonio drives to Albuquerque to terminate a pregnancy and the authorities in Texas demand that New Mexico extradite her? 

And cultural ones: How did we wind up with a feminist movement that is policing our ability to say the word woman, but has been unable to safeguard second-wave feminism’s most important victory?

In the coming days we’ll bring you reporting and analysis on such questions.

One thing I keep thinking about is a piece that Alana Newhouse, the editor in chief of Tablet, wrote for us last year about the urgency of state power—the dawn of a renewed federalism in the 21st century.

“For decades, a strong federal government was the preferred soldier for me, and for many people I knew,” she wrote. No longer. In the era of lockdowns and vaccine passports and, especially, the emergence of social credit systems, federal power no longer looked so benign. 

“In the face of this seemingly omnipresent power, where can one find shelter?” she asked. Her answer: the states. Don’t like the lockdowns in Brooklyn? Move to Miami. Don’t like the income tax in Los Angeles? Consider Juneau.

“In ways the founding fathers did not foresee—or did they?—we seem to be facing something quite unexpected. A new era of the states is upon us,” Alana wrote.

In many ways the possibilities of that are promising. Covid and crime and school choice have made that abundantly clear. But what meaning does “the laboratory of the states” have to the young woman raped in Missouri or Louisiana and unable to afford to travel to a state where abortion is legal?

We know that some Common Sense readers feel extremely gratified by Dobbs. We know that others are scared and worried about what other rights might be under threat. One of the things we value most about this community is that we have different views about highly divisive subjects. What we share is a commitment to civility, respect and honest conversation. Even—especially—in deeply emotional moments like this one.

There are those who claim that the time for nonviolence has passed. That desperate times call for desperate measures. That we are in a war and in a war the normal rules of politics must be suspended. These are the same people who turn a blind eye to—or justify—those threatening the lives of Supreme Court justices with whom they disagree. The same people who, in another time, justified violence against abortion providers.

We could not disagree more strongly with this view.

We know that it’s chic these days to write off virtues like civility and decency and humility and grace. We believe those things are the only way forward. That the only alternative to violence is persuasion and argument.

We hope that in some small way Common Sense is able to facilitate that exchange, to provide a forum for good-faith argument, to make it easier for people of varying backgrounds and opinions to forge a greater understanding, not with an eye toward papering over our many differences or the profound moral and medical and political implications of yesterday’s ruling, but with the hope that that might make living together more possible. 

We think that spirit was captured in two conversations about abortion that we hosted on Honestly. If you take a walk or a drive this weekend, give them a listen:

Why You’re Right—And Wrong—About Abortion. With Caitlin Flanagan.

The Yale Law Professor Who Is Anti-Roe, But Pro-Choice. With Akhil Amar.

If you appreciate our efforts to build a community capable of reasoned arguments and good-faith disagreement, please subscribe today:

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