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A travesty foretold

For the first time in memory, Americans’ inalienable rights have been curtailed.

Senator Susan Collins chose to ignore the overwhelming suggestion from the judicial records of the conservative justices that they’d vote to overturn abortion rights. Here, Collins meets Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.Bloomberg

Thanks to a leak of the draft opinion, Americans have known for weeks that the Supreme Court was preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion throughout the United States. The actual publication of the opinion on Friday nonetheless landed like a bombshell.

Indeed, Friday was a singular day in our history: the first day in living memory that Americans went to bed with fewer inalienable rights than they had when they woke up.

The 6-3 ruling overturns the principle that access to abortion is a constitutional right and frees states to regulate it as they see fit. Many Republican-led state legislatures are now expected to enact total or near-total bans on the procedure.


In Massachusetts and the rest of New England, the ruling will have little practical impact, since ending pregnancies is permitted under state laws (or, in New Hampshire’s case, not prohibited).

But that’s scant comfort. America is likely to transform into a nation in which women’s rights will depend on geography. As in America before 1973, women seeking abortions in states where it becomes illegal will have to either cross state lines, seek an illegal abortion in their home state, or find a way to obtain abortion drugs.

The ruling appears to open the door to other attacks on personal rights and could also imperil the right to contraception and same-sex marriage.

There is plenty of blame to go around for this rollback of rights, starting with the justices in the majority who apparently misled senators during their confirmation hearings — and the senators gullible enough to believe them. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat, said on Friday, “I trusted Justice [Neal] Gorsuch and Justice [Brett] Kavanaugh when they testified under oath that they also believed Roe v. Wade was settled legal precedent, and I am alarmed they chose to reject the stability the ruling has provided for two generations of Americans.”


Spare us, senator. Manchin and Susan Collins, the abortion-rights-favoring Maine Republican who voted for Kavanaugh and sanctimoniously lectured critics who feared he’d vote against Roe, chose to ignore the overwhelming suggestion from the judicial records of the conservative justices that they’d vote to overturn abortion rights.

If they and other members of Congress are really so broken up by the ruling, the best remaining response now would be for Congress to legislatively restore abortion rights nationwide. Short of congressional action, it will be left for activists to fight state-by-state battles for abortion access. Either way, the end of Roe means that abortion rights will always only be as secure as the next election, because any legislation this Congress passes, the next can undo.

If there a silver lining to the ruling, it’s that it’s a testament to the power of political organizing. Right-wing activists worked for decades for the victory they won Friday, building coalitions and patiently accepting setbacks without losing sight of the long-term goal. It’s a powerful example for other social movements.

But for people across America, the price of their victory will be ruinous. Abortion isn’t going anywhere; it’s been part of humanity since time immemorial, and antiabortion activists who imagine this ruling will meaningfully reduce abortions are deluding themselves. But now, for millions of Americans, abortion will be less safe and harder to access than it was during the 49-year life of this former constitutional right.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.