As predicted since December, when a public hearing on the Dobbs case took place, on June 24th 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court, overturned the right to abortion established in the 1973 Roe Vs. Wade decision. The decision did not surprise those who follow the realm of sexual politics, especially after the leaking of the decision’s minutes that occurred in May. The decision represents a seismic shift in US’ sexual and reproductive politics and far beyond its national borders. Evoking Margaret Atwood’s famous novel, we do consider that it is appropriate to call it the “Gilead decision”.
This naming option has several motivations. The first is that evoking the novel throws us directly into the long course of U.S. anti-abortion politics and its global ramifications. Atwood wrote the novel in the early 1980s, when, during the Reagan era, the first institutional effects of the conservative revolution that began in the 1970s, whose original motivation was, to a large extent, fueled by the 1973 abortion rights decision. As it is well known, one of the first symptoms of this institutionalized anti-abortion reaction was the so-called Gag Rule adopted, for the first time, in 1984. Against this backdrop, the regrettable June 2022 decision must be read as the culmination of the steady and tenacious investment made by conservatives in the last 50 years to make abortion once again illegal and unsafe in the US.
The second good reason to name this dire regression after Atwood’s novel is the author´s admirable prescience. Forty years ago, Atwood imagined a reproductive politics dystopia whose parallels to present-day conditions cannot be circumvented. As she recalls, in an article published after the decision, her inspiration came from the rules of social and sexual conduct of 17th-century puritan colonial culture in North America, that is, from a time when “witches” were being burned. Quite significantly, as various analyses of the leaked may draft have pointed out, several of the arguments in the decision that would overturn Roe are in fact based on English common law decisions from the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as on the opinion of an American judge from colonial times. Finally, but not trivially, since its serialization, the novel has projected around the world – in a wide arc that goes from Poland to the Brazilian peripheries – the image of the “Maid” as an iconic figure of women turned into incubators by a patriarchal and theocratic regime.
The compilation we have organized around the decision is aimed at throwing some light in the shadows of the real-life dystopia that will unfold from it. The selection includes several articles that examine the long trajectory of accumulation of forces and gains achieved by U.S. anti-abortion forces, including in respect to their highly metamorphic nature and connections with large corporations and the neoliberal policy agenda, as illustrated by Sandra Hinson’s insightful analysis published by Convergence.
It also encompasses a number of writings that interpret the systemic meanings and potential deleterious legal ramifications of Roe Vs Wade. One example is Noah Feldman’s exceptional article published by Blomberg that views the juridical assumptions upon which the decision is grounded as a firm step toward eroding the core principle of a living constitution: its possibility to evolve as to expand liberty and equality. Other observers included in the selection critically assess how Dobbs may extend, in a nefarious way, to other well-established legal grounds such as same-sex relationships, equal marriage, contraception and even free speech. Moreover, as Judith Butler points out in a very recent interview, it is crucial to understand that the political goal that underlies the Dobbs decision is the restoration of the patriarchal order.
The compilation also looks into the social, criminal and health repercussions of the decision and its transnational impacts. In this block, we especially recommend Gillian Kane’s analysis in Salon, a New Yorker article and Stephanie Nolen’s analyses that examine the potential impacts of the decision on medical abortion. Another block looks into the internal dynamics of the Court and there is also a group of articles that analyzes the potential worldwide impact of Dobbs. It is in our plans to elaborate, in the near future, a more thorough assessment of the tectonic shift the decision implies for worldwide reproductive rights and justice politics.
The long course of US anti-abortion politics
Legal and juridical implications
First Amendment confrontation may loom in the post- Roe fight – New York Times
Political, social and health impacts
Inside the Court
SPW’s bulletins on abortion: our coverage in the latest years