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The Supreme Court is coming after democracy itself

Demonstrators gathered outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday, following a leaked draft opinion that would overturn Roe v Wade.SARAHBETH MANEY/NYT

No, the draft decision signaling the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade doesn’t come as a surprise.

And no, that fact doesn’t do anything to lessen the shock of the decision, or the dread of what could be coming next.

A Supreme Court majority that has been shaped by its opposition to abortion rights is ready to pull the trigger. A draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, first reported by Politico, shows that at least five justices are ready to reverse the 1973 decision that enshrined abortion as a constitutional right.

The decision would be a huge win for the right-wing minority that has doggedly battled abortion rights for decades. And a stunning defeat for the other 70 percent of us, who support the right to choose.


Part of the shock here is the thumping triumph of minority rule. The fact that the country overwhelmingly disagrees with this decision means nothing. If this happens, nine people with lifetime tenure get to tell the other 330 million of us how we can live our lives, right down to what women can do with their bodies.

No one can tell me this is what Jefferson and Madison intended for the Supreme Court.

Let’s be clear about this much. The end of Roe won’t be as bad as people think. It will be worse.

Just take a look at the Draconian antiabortion laws already being passed in Texas, Oklahoma, and other states. They don’t just seek to outlaw abortion. They want to put women who seek them in jail. They seek to intimidate doctors who might consider civil disobedience with the threat of jail, too. They want to equate bodily autonomy with manslaughter.

That’s where we’re headed. At least two dozen states will seek to ban abortion as soon as the Supreme Court gives the green light, so we could arrive at that horrifying destination faster than anyone expects.


The culture war over abortion has always been part of a larger battle between left and right, and that has never been more true than now. Expect other longstanding rights to be on the table now too.

Because, after decades of maneuvering, the Right has the Supreme Court majority of its dreams. Not merely one that shares its often misogynistic and racist beliefs, but one that combines those beliefs with zero respect for judicial precedent. They seem prepared to drive a truck through voting rights, marriage equality, even perhaps contraception. Who knows where they will stop? Who’s to say there are any boundaries?

Some will say that is a hysterical, overwrought reaction. Here’s what I will say to that: Since the 2016 presidential campaign and the ascent of Donald Trump, the centrist chorus arguing that “things won’t be that bad” has been consistently, unequivocally wrong.

Perhaps they will finally realize now that we are living in the midst of a revolution — a revolution most Americans never asked for and don’t want.

We can’t overlook the fact that this decision — don’t expect it to somehow change in any fundamental way — will drop in the middle of the midterm elections. That means there will be an opportunity soon for Americans to say no to an out-of-control minority bent on overhauling society.

An opportunity, but only if we seize it.

As Congresswoman Katherine Clark, the assistant House speaker from Revere, was waiting to speak at a State House rally Tuesday, I asked her what happens next.


“We mobilize, we show up, we vote,” Clark said. “That’s it.”

The path to this dark place has been long and complicated. But the road forward might not be. If the vast majority of Americans can put aside other differences to say no to the extremists, we may not have to watch our rights evaporate one at a time.

In his leaked majority opinion, Alito claims not to know how the end of Roe will play out politically, as if to signal that he is above such mundane considerations. But what the uprising on the right signifies better matter to the rest of us.

America is still a democracy, after all. If we choose to hang on to it.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @Adrian_Walker.