Transmissions: Standing up in a post-Roe world

  • by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
  • Wednesday June 29, 2022
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Illustration: Christine Smith
Illustration: Christine Smith

I am sure you don't need me to tell you this: in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which established constitutional protections for abortion, as part of a 6-3 decision to uphold an abortion ban in Mississippi in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. (Chief Justice John Roberts issued a separate opinion agreeing with the Mississippi ban but didn't join Justice Samuel Alito's majority in overturning Roe.) The decision is a devastating rollback of the rights of women and so many others.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas called for overturning several other decisions, including Obergefell v. Hodges and Lawrence v. Texas. This would, of course, be the end for a lot of LGBTQ rights victories won in the courts in this century. Obergefell, in 2015, legalized same-sex marriage nationwide; Lawrence, in 2003, struck down state bans against same-sex sexual relations.

It is notable that Thomas stopped short of considering the reversal of Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 case that overturned bans on interracial marriage, perhaps because that one — unlike the others — he has a personal investment in keeping intact. Thomas, who is Black, is married to a white woman and enjoys the legal protections gained via the Loving decision.

Much like Thomas, the conservative justices on the Supreme Court telegraphed their willingness to overturn Roe late last year after oral arguments in Dobbs, and a leaked copy of Alito's draft decision in early May showed exactly where things were bound to go. We should be prepared for Lawrence, Obergefell, and Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), which struck down bans on couples using contraception, to fall as soon as the court's next session, which begins in October.

As dire as this is, however, I want to light an even more urgent fire: at their heart, the fight for abortion rights and the fight for trans rights are intertwined. Both are very much about bodily autonomy, and who has a say over what you can and cannot do with your own flesh. We cannot have a robust trans rights movement without being a part of the abortion rights movement.

For that matter, transgender people who happen to have uteri have just as much to lose by this ruling. A large part of the transgender community is directly affected by the loss of Roe.

There has been a lot of anger directed not just against conservative Republicans, but also Democrats in the wake of this ruling, with many — frankly, including myself — arguing that they are not doing enough. On June 24, the very day Roe was overturned, we saw members of Congress take to the steps of the Capitol — and sing "God Bless America." Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) responded by reading a poem.

Further, the Democrats have seized this moment to return to their regular messaging around voting, particularly in the November midterm elections. I, who have voted in every election since I came of age, am nonplussed by this.

I did not, after all, vote for a poet or a church choir. I voted for lawmakers, and I expect them to do everything they can to codify the rights lost under this illegitimate Supreme Court.

At the same time, I know that I'm not their audience for this message: it's the roughly 80 million people who did not vote in 2020, who are probably not that fired up about 2022 or 2024. If they stay home, and the Congress flips to Republican control, we will see no further positive action to protect bodily autonomy or civil rights — likely for a generation.

Yet, "just vote" isn't the answer, and it is cold comfort for those who do show up at the polls. We need a Congress and a president who are not just saying the right words — when they are not singing, of course — but are acting on the needs of the people. If all they can do is once again plead for votes, then what is their purpose in Washington, D.C.?

If I may, it is as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: "We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." We know where the GOP stands, but what will our allies in the Democratic Party do at this juncture? This is a time for bold moves — not reciting poems.

In the end, however, it isn't about the Supreme Court, or the Democrats, or even the president. In the end, it is up to us.

There are nine justices on the Supreme Court. There are 525 members of Congress in the House and Senate.

There are 329 million or so Americans, and we need to understand that the only people who are going to save us are ourselves. We can't expect anyone else to do the job for us.

We will need to donate to abortion rights causes and volunteer for them. It will finally be time to address the subject with friends and family, especially those with whom it will be difficult to converse. It is time to take to the streets, to the airwaves, to anyplace we can. It is time to be ready to fight back — metaphorically and otherwise.

Yes, those of us who haven't gone to the ballot box had best go and do so, presuming we can. Yet we also need to be calling on our representatives, from either side of the aisles, and let our voice be heard. Our opponents are counting on our complacency and expecting us to feel demoralized and afraid.

In the last few days, many tears have been shed over this decision, mine included. At the same time, many of us are afire with rage at the stripping away of our rights. When a blacksmith crafts an object, they will often take the red-hot metal and quench it in water and other substances to rapidly cool it down, hardening the piece. Your tears and your rage are powerful. Use them to strengthen yourself into the most effective version of you, a tougher self, ready to fight back.

They've taken enough from us. Let's not hand them anything else for free.

Gwen Smith will not cede an inch. You'll find her at

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