Crusaders protecting the unborn willingly sacrifice the living

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Liane Jackson

Liane Jackson is the author of Intersection, a column that explores issues of race, gender and law across America’s criminal and social justice landscape.

Our country’s conservative establishment wants you to know that life is sacred. Or rather, every life is sacred as long as that “life” is unborn. Once a human being enters this world, all bets are off.

The same right-wing legislators consumed with “protecting” babies in the womb demonstrate apathy toward the women carrying those babies and children who breathe air. Their “right to life” doesn’t include protection from semi-automatic rifles and mass shootings at elementary schools, as guns have become the No. 1 killer of children and adolescents in the United States. The protection doesn’t encompass fundamental needs like prenatal care, food, shelter or education. Instead of focusing on salvaging the shrinking lifespans of Americans already alive, conservatives have spent decades strategizing ways to strip rights from women and mothers with a hypocritical, evangelical zeal. While they have succeeded in reversing Roe v. Wade and forcing women to carry babies and give birth, this country continues to fail the living through inaction and indifference. For example:

Childbirth? More maternal deaths occur in the U.S. than any other industrialized nation.

Health care? Either you need a job with good insurance or the affluence to afford it.

Education? You’ll get a decent one if you live in the right neighborhood or have the financial means for private school, otherwise you’re out of luck!

Child care? Is someone able to stay home with the kids? If not, there better be surplus funds for good day care or a nanny.

School safety? Giving all teachers guns and removing doors are the latest bizarre suggestions to prevent the continued slaughter in classrooms.

According to a June CBS News poll 44% of Republicans said mass shootings are something we have to accept as part of a free society, while 72% of the nation as a whole believes these massacres could be prevented if we really tried. But Republicans are apparently loath to try.

It’s deathly clear that gun lobby money and gun worship have become entrenched in the political landscape at biblical proportions: For conservatives so loved their weapons they allowed our sons and daughters to perish, so that gun rights could have everlasting life.

Slippery, bloody slope

The conservatives of the U.S. Supreme Court, through rulings blocking gun control, greenlighting executions, condoning abortion-provider bounty hunting and forced maternal labor, has demonstrated a ghastly tolerance for violence.

During oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which all three appointees of former President Donald Trump indicated their support for rejecting stare decisis and eliminating a woman’s right to choose, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked whether the court would “survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts.”

But it’s a bit late for that concern. The Supreme Court is protected from popular will or accountability and is now seen for what it has become: an ultraconservative unelected body ruling by fiat. And while the Constitution may set out this country’s foundational principles, it is overwhelmingly a political document used and abused to interpret modern-day rights through an archaic and exclusionary historical lens.

Even though an overwhelming majority of Americans support a woman’s right to choose—with a May CNN poll showing 66% opposed overturning Roe—more than a dozen states were already armed with trigger laws that would ban abortion if Roe was reversed. Others are now in the process of implementing similar legislation.

Rather than an equal protection argument, the court’s 1973 ruling in Roe was based on a right to privacy and the substantive due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which provides that there are some liberties, unspecified in the Constitution, that are so important they cannot be infringed upon by the government. But these liberty-protected rights are now in jeopardy after Dobbs, with the court demonstrating a complete disregard for well-established precedent, eviscerating its own abortion rights decisions in both Roe and 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

The court’s willingness to toss stare decisis and ignore popular will impacts not only women’s bodily autonomy but has implications for a host of other privacy-related protections going forward. In his concurrence, Justice Clarence Thomas foreshadowed future actions, writing the court should “reconsider all of [its] substantive due process precedents,” which would include rulings on same-sex marriage, contraception, gay and transgender rights, and others.

Little fires everywhere

If the blood on American streets is any indication, it would seem there are more important issues at stake than what goes on inside a woman’s uterus, such as the fact that this country already had more than 250 mass shootings this year.

But gun violence isn’t the three-alarm fire it should be. The court’s decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen will gut a wide range of commonsense gun-control measures currently in place across the country at a time of escalating terror and murderous rampages by kids and adults with easy access to high-powered weapons.

Instead of courts’ disingenuous reliance on a vague and dusty amendment designed in the days of muskets and gunpowder, the exigencies of modern society should dictate the path forward. But even benign proposals like a ban on assault rifles, tougher background checks, and a higher age threshold to purchase lethal weapons have been rejected by a National Rifle Association lobby that cares more about protecting access to guns than protecting innocent children.

At least everyone may soon be able to carry a handgun in public—solving one of our country’s most pressing problems—the need for more deadly weapons on the street. Conversely, Canada moved with alacrity to basically eliminate the ability of most citizens to purchase guns at all. Canadians, along with much of the developed world, have now been deprived of the liberty of becoming victims of wanton gun violence.

No such deprivation for our citizenry. At least clusters of nonsentient cells can rest assured that zealous lawmakers have secured their right to grow into embryos, then fetuses, and eventually fully formed babies.

As for those babies after they’ve left the womb—thoughts and prayers are with you.

This story will be published in the August/September 2022 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “Blowing Up Roe: Crusaders protecting the unborn willingly sacrifice the living.”

This column reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of the ABA Journal—or the American Bar Association.

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