Guest Opinion: Liberal status quo brought us to this moment

  • by Andrew Kelly
  • Wednesday June 29, 2022
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Members of the Dykes on Bikes contingent express their anger at the U.S. Supreme Court decision reversing the right to abortion in the June 26 San Francisco Pride parade. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland<br>
Members of the Dykes on Bikes contingent express their anger at the U.S. Supreme Court decision reversing the right to abortion in the June 26 San Francisco Pride parade. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

Without a doubt, the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization ruling overturning Roe v. Wade's right to abortion will go down as one of the most egregious abuses of judicial authority in our country's history. Never before in the history of our republic has a right been bestowed to a group of people, only to be stripped away later. And, of course, as anyone who isn't lying to themselves is aware, this is only the beginning of a war against civil liberties the religious right has been brewing for decades that will ultimately come to affect racial minorities, women, and yes, our queer community.

While I see many people within queer spaces rightfully blaming the Republican Party for its brazen assault on civil liberties, it's less often that I see people point out the political decisions made by many prominent members of the Democratic Party that allowed this to happen. The fact is, Democrats have had plenty of opportunity and forewarning that this day would come and did nothing.

Take, for example, former President Barack Obama's promise to Planned Parenthood when he was running for president that one of his first actions if elected would be to codify Roe into law before eventually saying that doing so was not his "biggest priority." While defenders of the Democratic Party would be right to say that Obama did not have a completely pro-choice supermajority in Congress to work with, this is no excuse.

President Lyndon Johnson (D) was known for cajoling Southern senators into voting for the Civil Rights Act, at times even threatening them with the loss of their political fortune if they did not vote for the bill, as well as using his bully pulpit to rally the American public behind its passage. Imagine if Obama had used his role as leader of the Democratic Party to cajole anti-choice senators into voting for the codification of Roe by threatening them with the loss of campaign funds from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as well as rallied the public, who, by and large, support the Roe decision, to advocate for its passage. Some would argue that this would have caused these senators to lose their seats; meanwhile that exact thing happened in our timeline with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, when Obama himself said the Democrats took a "shellacking" in the 2010 midterm elections and lost control of both the House and Senate the following year.

Furthermore, much blame for the tearing down of Roe must also be placed on the late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg indeed had ample warning that her health was failing, having been treated for pancreatic cancer as far back as 2009. Obama, as well as Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy (D), even met with Ginsburg to nudge her into retiring. However, for whatever reason, she chose to stay on throughout Donald Trump's presidency. Her death in September 2020, just weeks before the presidential election, allowed Trump and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to jam through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the high court, solidifying the 6-3 conservative supermajority that exists today.

Even when the threat to abortion was most tantamount during President Joe Biden's first months in office, just after Barrett was confirmed to the court, it took the current president 468 days to even mention the word "abortion" after being elected. And, at that, only once in a news release mentioning the leaked draft opinion in May that would become the Dobbs ruling. While Democrats have certainly made a case that this would never have been possible in the face of obstruction from Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), the Democratic Party has done itself no favors by continuing to stump for anti-abortion candidates. Indeed, just three weeks before the Dobbs ruling, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) reiterated her support for Congressmember Henry Cuellar (Texas), the lone anti-choice House Democratic incumbent. He was in a competitive runoff race that he narrowly won. This casts much doubt on the idea that the Democratic Party ever cared about Roe beyond using it as a wedge fundraising issue. Furthermore, the idea of a conservative insurgent within the Democratic Party using their influence to stunt positive social change is nothing new. Remember former Democratic Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman? He switched to being an independent.

The fact of the matter is, no politician is coming to save women, racial minorities, trans people, or the queer community from the Supreme Court. The Democratic Party is too beholden to its corporatist large donors to ever even think about doing something like abolishing the filibuster, which would be needed to codify Roe. All one needs to do to see this is to look at how Democrats have continually called for more police funding, even as the police would be responsible for enforcing a national ban on abortion the GOP is no doubt salivating over. And the Republican Party — well, it's actively trying to dismantle what few civil rights we have left.

Now is the time for mass resistance and mutual aid on a scale the likes of which the U.S. has never seen before — donating en masse to abortion funds, civil disobedience, and learning self-defense through groups such as the John Brown Gun Club, Pink Pistols, and Socialist Rifle Association. I would also like to close this essay by asking anyone who has the means to do so to match my donation of $5.20 (including fees) to the National Network of Abortion Funds.

Andrew Kelly (he/him/his) is currently a junior at San Francisco State University, studying communications and professional writing.

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