The End of Roe is the Crowning Achievement in Bad Faith Politics
We were meant to believe Texas Republican lawmakers cared about the health and safety of people seeking abortion services.
We were told over and over by Oklahoma Republicans that they fretted night and day about the cleanliness of abortion clinics.
State by state, Republicans brought forward the most laughable, insulting arguments for why abortion access needed to be trimmed back or outright destroyed. It was for the women, they said. It was for the doctors. We're looking out for public health, they said with the flicker of a grin.
The Supreme Court leak revealing the court's radical right wing will soon eviscerate the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade is the culmination of a decades-long public relations battle against folks seeking reproductive health care. The end of Roe is the crowning achievement in bad-faith politics, in expertly disguising one's political aim in the guise of altruism. Nothing comes close.
I worked as an editor at reproductive justice publication Rewire.News in what I suppose would be the final years of legal abortion in the United States. Every day, I assigned and edited and sometimes wrote news stories about the latest machinations in the never-ending war on safe abortion access (and contraception, naturally). Republican legislators in statehouses nationwide were fed misinformation by pernicious right-wing think tanks whose only function was to come up with the worst-faith arguments for why abortion clinics should be shut down. They fed that reasoning to lawmakers, who spewed it into legislation making it that much tougher to access abortion care.
They're done eating away at the edges of abortion rights. It's over now. A half century of legal abortion is weeks away from ending. No one in the south, midwest, and parts of the southwest will be able to legally end a pregnancy. Instead, pregnant people will be thrown in prison for trying to end their pregnancies. Doctors will be fined and imprisoned and in some cases assassinated (murder being a core strategy of the anti-abortion movement). Cops will be charged with upholding our new Handmaids Tale reality. We will drink from a firehose of horrors in the months and years after Roe. Your timelines will be filled with police officers dragging pregnant folks to prison because they had a miscarriage.
This hardly came out of nowhere, as even a casual observer would know. The Republican wave in the 2010 midterm elections created legislatures primed to make Roe irrelevant. When Republicans took over a state legislature, they had two priorities: Gerrymandering districts and passing anti-abortion laws. The latter was usually a thank you to the frothing abortion rights opponents who had used their resources to elect these GOP majorities. Once in power, reciprocation was swift.
State-level Republicans throughout the 2010s passed laws forcing pregnant folks to hear loads of medically untrue anti-abortion talking points; laws creating burdensome waiting periods for people seeking the procedure; laws forcing women to get approval from the man who impregnated her before she could end her pregnancy; laws forbidding insurance policies from covering the procedure; and laws ending access to abortion later in pregnancy, forcing people to give birth to babies who could not survive outside the womb.
It was all so deranged and malicious. My years at Rewire.News showed me time and again that abortion rights opponents are the most blatantly and unapologetically evil people on the planet. There is no compromising with them. Negotiating with an anti-choicer is futile in an almost comic way. Politically, they want your head on a pike. Literally, they want abortion providers' heads on pikes.
The tragic part: Their ends-justify-the-means approach has worked beautifully. When only one side of a political debate is willing to get in the mud – to slurp it up, to get it in every crevice – there can only be one outcome. The ends-justify-the-means crowd wins before the battle even starts. Anti-abortion activists were never going to lose in the long run.
My favorite bad-faith anti-abortion policies, however, were known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws. TRAP laws were so naked in their bad faith, so clearly disguised to feign care about pregnant people. Republican legislators would use the power of the state to shut down abortion clinics if the facility's hallways were an inch too narrow, if their beds were slightly misplaced or too big or too small, if the floor at the entrance of the clinic was dirty. TRAP laws gave license to state health departments – stacked to the top with the most vicious anti-abortion activists – to close clinics on the most minor technicalities.
They did this, they said, because pregnant people deserved better. They cared about these folks, and a hallway that was one inch too narrow was dangerous for people seeking care. Some dirt near a clinic entrance was unacceptable, they'd say. Sorry, the clinic has to close.
Many clinics remained closed because they would've had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to satisfy the anti-choice activists posing as state regulators. And that was the point of the TRAP laws – to make it impossible to operate an abortion clinic.
(I'd be remiss if I didn't mention an intriguing thread in reproductive justice circles over the past decade, one charging that the end of Roe would pave the way for real federal protections for abortion rights. The idea: The repeal of Roe v. Wade would generate such tremendous political urgency and political will (and pressure) that something better – something more comprehensive and safeguarded against interference from the Supreme Court's far right – could become the law of the land. Roe has been effectively dead in twenty-some states since 2010. Many activists acknowledge this and believe there is hope in a post-Roe future.)
Like everything in conservative politics, the destruction of Roe was accomplished in bad faith, their final arrow in the bad-faith quiver being "fetal heartbeat" abortion bans – legislation based on the provable lie that fetal tissue has a heartbeat at six weeks' gestation. There is no fetus at six weeks, and there certainly is no baby at six weeks. This barbaric legislation – never questioned by media outlets that have long covered abortion as a both-sides issue – moved fetal viability into a range in which people didn't even know they were pregnant. This was the antis' final legislative victory.
Abortion rights opponents could never say what they meant; the public would roundly reject their biblical, unhinged ranting and raving. Anti-abortion forces, as craven as any group in the nation, care neither for pregnant people nor their babies. Not at all. They are obsessed with domination, with the rolling back of rights for marginalized groups, with the return to some traditional past where women knew their role and shut their mouths. Ending Roe is about subjugation. It's about punishing and immiserating women, mostly poor women, undeserving women – not the kind of women a Republican senator would mistakenly impregnate.
These people want to restrain basic rights. The end of Roe is only part of a more comprehensive rollback of constitutional rights won in the 20th century. Our rights will continue to fall, one at a time, until there is nothing left but our regret and our seething anger. Conservatives want rights preserved for certain groups. They want the rest to suffer and die. It's not a coincidence that white supremacist organizations recruit at anti-abortion rallies. Their ideologies mesh perfectly.
Bad-faith politics has never had a victory like this.
Follow Denny Carter on Twitter @CDCarter13 for maximum alienation.