Should the Supreme Court repeal Roe v. Wade as expected, abortion will immediately become illegal in most states (Politico, The Guardian): a momentous defeat for reproductive justice as liberal electoral feminism, the strategy of using the U.S. government to protect women’s rights. If we believe that reproductive healthcare and bodily autonomy are non-negotiable, we’ll need to broaden our views of what’s necessary to protect them.
Voting has been a major feminist issue since the suffrage movement (NPS). Feminists campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment, demanded greater representation of women in government, and fought for state protection from gender violence, wage inequality, and forced pregnancy (Britannica).
Many describe a feminist obligation to support Democratic presidential candidates (Salon). Though successive liberal administrations have failed to make pro-choice legislation a political priority, even misogynists like Bill Clinton generally nominate pro-choice candidates for lifetime seats on the Supreme Court — the one federal institution preventing the return of abortion bans (The Atlantic). After Republicans failed to consider Obama’s 2016 nominee, Trump got to add three judges to a now right-leaning Court. They are the only Supreme Court justices under 60 years of age.
• Support abortion funds for communities whose reproductive healthcare access is threatened.
• Consider: was Dr. King correct when he said we have an “obligation to disobey unjust laws”? For which groups of people would that obligation be the greatest? What types of actions and risks are appropriate for us to take when entire groups of people are under attack? What should happen next, and what are you willing to do?
The Supreme Court has been and continues to be the battleground for racial integration, gay and interracial marriage, and abortion. Issues of crucial public importance are decided not by popular vote but by unelected judges’ interpretations of a document written by enslavers. Many are white, with politics that could generously be described as “moderate.” They’re career judges who have lived lives quite distinct from everyday U.S. residents for decades, perhaps forever. This divide only worsens over the course of appointments that last until the day they die. Today, the Court has two Republican appointees for each justice appointed by a Democrat. A liberal court majority may not be possible for another generation.
The Supreme Court will likely remove abortion protections, leaving it outlawed across most of the U.S. Given the political landscape, it will remain illegal in many places for a considerable time — possibly forever. In a best-case scenario, thousands will be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term before laws and rulings might be repealed. Many will die. If neither Democratic presidencies nor Congressional majorities were enough to protect bodily autonomy, what are those who believe in it to do?
We can’t rely on voting alone to protect reproductive rights. There has always been feminism oriented beyond elections. While liberal electoral feminism seeks reforms, socialist feminism connects capitalist relations and gender roles. Radical feminists see patriarchy as a foundational part of society in general. (A subset is the anti-trans ideologues called TERFs.) Alice Walker coined womanism, a more expansive feminism centering Black women — people too often sacrificed by liberal electoral feminism to advance white women’s interests (ThoughtCo, League of Women Voters). Feminists from marginalized communities have had to grapple with the fact that even well-intended laws are enforced by racist, murderous institutions: the courts, the prisons, and the police.
The Miss America pageant filed a restraining order after the women’s liberation movement’s first mass action in 1968 (The Conversation, Smithsonian). Women in the persecuted Black Panther Party held community classes about patriarchy (Bust). In the 90s, the Lesbian Avengers deployed stink bombs at a homophobic school superintendent’s lawyer’s office (Swarthmore). Activists shut down Operation Rescue’s pro-life training camp (Washington Post).
Mexico’s feminist movement occupied government buildings and college campuses and burned down a police station (Bloomberg); the nation codified the right to abortion last year (Ms.). Abortion became legal in Argentina in 2020 after feminists confronted police repression with flaming barricades in the streets (Evening Standard). “The rapist is you,” went one famous chant. “The cops. The judges. The State. The president” (Yahoo!).
And in the 1960s United States, the Jane Collective connected women to “11,000 safe, affordable, and yes, illegal abortions” (Daily Beast). Some members faced over a century in prison (Democracy Now). Cofounder Heather Booth now calls for “reestablishing that underground that I was part of in those pre-Roe years” (NPR).
Today, the Four Thieves Vinegar Collective is sharing information on how to make at-home abortion pills in an emergency (Vice). The collective has also shared instructions on making a DIY EpiPen for $30 (Vice). If/When/How confidentially supports people having self-managed abortions and defends those who face prosecution (If/When/How). Plan C and Shout Your Abortion also help individuals acquire abortion pills unconditionally (Plan C, Shout Your Abortion). The Buckle Bunnies Fund was started in the middle of a temporary abortion ban in Texas (BBF). Groups like Indigenous Women Rising and the Abortion Liberation Fund of PA have declared that, regardless of the court decision, they “will still be here to provide funding and support in the continued fight for abortion liberation!” (ALF-PA, Indigenous Women Rising). Outraged feminists defied the law to protest at Supreme Court justices’ homes (Washington Post).
If a human right becomes illegal, we are ultimately faced with two options: to abandon our political and ethical beliefs or take action, whether legal or not. “One has an obligation,” said Dr. King, “to disobey unjust laws” (Letter from Jail).
The bodily autonomy and actual lives of hundreds of millions are at stake.
• Twenty-six states may ban abortion in the near future.
• Given the political landscape, protecting reproductive healthcare will require more than voting.
• Activists are preparing to support reproductive autonomy, even if it requires breaking the law.